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S.Korea readies for COVID-19 vaccine with airport transport drill

SEOUL, Feb 3 (Reuters) - South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called on Wednesday for seamless preparations for coronavirus vaccinations, as a refrigerated van drove in convoy with several military and police escort cars in a drill at the capital’s airport.

Despite initial success in taming earlier outbreaks, South Korea is grappling with its third and largest wave of infections, which has fuelled criticism that it was slow to secure vaccines for a population of 52 million.

But no exact date has been set for the arrival of vaccines and this month’s start of an inoculation campaign targeting about 50,000 frontline health workers and the elderly that aims to cover about 10 million high-risk people by July.

Wednesday’s preparedness drill at the Incheon international airport, west of Seoul, mobilised special freezers and ran through scenarios such as a terror attack, theft and transport faults, military and police officials said.

“We need to accomplish our tasks in the actual process of transport, storage and distribution without any errors,” Moon said during the drill.

“Repetitive exercises are important to ensure there won’t be any trials and errors that have occurred overseas, including missing vaccines and cold chain problems.”

The vans carried containers specially made for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that require ultra cold storage, by Korean Air, the nation’s largest airline.

One container can carry up to 60,000 doses at temperatures of minus 18 Celsius (minus 0.4 F) for about 100 hours, an airline official said.

Vaccine centres have been designated in 250 indoor gyms and community halls nationwide, and equipped with cold storage facilities.

South Korea has deals with Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca , Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen and Moderna Inc , as well as the World Health Organization-backed global COVAX scheme.

Pfizer vaccines for about 60,000 people and AstraZeneca products for 300,000 more could arrive this month via COVAX, authorities have said.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 467 new cases by Tuesday, as numbers rebounded above 400 in four days, boosted by continuing cluster infections.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: here)

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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