South Korea considers more vaccine buys as coronavirus cases spike

South Korea considers more vaccine buys as coronavirus cases spike
South Korea is battling one of its largest waves of coronavirus infections yet, fueled by small outbreaks in the densely populated capital city of Seoul, above, and surrounding areas. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 November 2020

South Korea considers more vaccine buys as coronavirus cases spike

South Korea considers more vaccine buys as coronavirus cases spike
  • South Korea is battling one of its largest waves of coronavirus infections yet

SEOUL: South Korea’s ruling party has called for the country to buy millions of additional coronavirus vaccine doses after a spike in infection numbers raised concerns about the government’s existing plans.
South Korea already plans to secure enough doses to vaccinate 30 million people, or about 60 percent of the population, but Democratic Party lawmakers said they would appropriate funds to buy doses for at least 44 million people.
“The party plans to allocate an additional 1.3 trillion won ($1.2 billion) to next year’s budget,” an official with Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Nak-yon’s office said.
South Korea is battling one of its largest waves of coronavirus infections yet, fueled by small outbreaks in the densely populated capital city of Seoul and surrounding areas.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 438 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Sunday, bringing the country’s total to 34,201 cases and 526 deaths.
The government’s current vaccine purchase plan puts it well ahead of a World Health Organization goal for the early purchase of supplies for 20 percent of most vulnerable people, and the minimum of 40 percent agreed by European Union nations, Britain and EU partners for their populations.
Korean authorities have said they are not in a rush to procure large numbers of vaccines quickly because the country has succeeded in keeping infection rates at controllable levels, preferring to wait and see which vaccines worked best.
Securing more vaccines of different types is also necessary because their safety has yet to be guaranteed, the KDCA said on Monday.
The KDCA has said they do not expect to start vaccinating the public until the second quarter of 2021.
The Korea National Enterprise for Clinical Trials said that as of Monday 3,500 people have pre-registered to participate in clinical trials for coronavirus experimental vaccines and treatment drugs, though a smaller number will be selected to participate.
Under the current plan, the government has secured a third of the needed doses via the COVAX facility, an international COVID-19 vaccine allocation platform co-led by the WHO, with the remaining doses purchased from private companies.


Kabul hails Biden plan to review Taliban deal

Kabul hails Biden plan to review Taliban deal
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) arrives with the government delegation during a visit in Herat province on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2021

Kabul hails Biden plan to review Taliban deal

Kabul hails Biden plan to review Taliban deal
  • Violence has worsened since signing of peace accord, critics claim

KABUL: Officials in Kabul have welcomed the new US administration’s plan to review a peace deal between Washington and the Taliban that paved the way for a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan by May.

President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Saturday told his Afghan counterpart, Hamdullah Mohib, that Washington will review last year’s agreement — an issue long demanded by Kabul — in a sign of a possible policy shift in the White House under its new leadership.

The accord, signed in Doha in February 2020, followed secret talks between the previous US government of Donald Trump and Taliban leaders. It committed the militants to reducing conflict in Afghanistan and engaging in negotiations with the Afghan government.

However, violence has intensified since the signing of the deal that also forced Kabul to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, souring President Ashraf Ghani’s ties with Washington. 
“We welcome the US intention to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement,” Sediq Sediqqi, Afghan deputy interior minister, said in a tweet following Sullivan’s conversation with Mohib.

“The agreement has not delivered the desired goal of ending the Taliban’s violence and bringing a cease-fire desired by Afghans. The Taliban did not live up to its commitments.”

Mohib’s spokesman, Rahmatullah Andar, told Arab News that Afghan security leaders had emphasized “a cease-fire, just peace, democratic Afghanistan and protecting the past 20 years of gain.”

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the arrival of US-led forces in 2001. 
Andar said that Afghanistan remained committed to its “foundational partnership with the US,” and will work closely with Washington on security, peace, counterterrorism and regional engagement.

Meanwhile, the Taliban say that they expect the new US administration to stick to the February deal.

“The demand of the Islamic Emirate from the new administration in America is full implementation of the Doha accord,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News. 
“The Doha agreement is the best prescription and only roadmap for ending the war in Afghanistan and for the withdrawal of US forces. The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement,” he said.

Under the deal, the Taliban agreed to cut ties with “terrorist groups” and halt attacks on US-led troops.

Trump administration officials claimed that there have been no strikes by the Taliban against US troops since the signing of the deal. 
Thousands of US soldiers have left since February, and only 2,500 remain in the country along with 30,000 foreign contractors. 
Afghan analysts are divided on the implications of the US administration’s announcement.

Tamim Asey, a former deputy defense minister, said the reassessment of the deal may lead to a slowing of the US withdrawal.

“I am now confident that the US will slow its troop drawdown until a policy review is complete,” he said.

Toreq Farhadi, a former government adviser, told Arab News there are likely to be only “minor changes in the reassessment” since the US wants to end the war.

However, Taj Mohammad, said that a review of the deal may lead to a “new wave of fighting.”

“The Taliban and some in the region oppose this because it could be seen as furthering the presence of US forces,” he said.