South Korea has achieved its goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of its 52 million people, paving the way for a planned return to normality next month.
The target, set a month before the country kicked off its inoculation campaign in late February, was reached on Saturday afternoon, with some 36 million people vaccinated, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced.
The goal had met with scepticism as the government grappled with global COVID-19 vaccine shortages and shipment delays.
But despite its rough start, South Korea quickly ramped up its vaccination drive, thanks to expanded supplies and relatively high public acceptance.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said last week the government will begin a phased return to normal activities starting from November 1.
"It's impossible to put an end to the pandemic by reaching herd immunity due to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant," the KDCA said in a statement.
"But meeting the vaccination goal has significant meaning in reducing severe cases and fatality, and as an important pre-condition for a transition to phased recovery of our daily lives."
South Korea has largely successfully managed to cope with the pandemic without imposing the lockdowns seen in many other parts of the world, on the back of intensive testing and tracing.
But it has struggled to suppress its fourth COVID-19 wave since last summer, with new daily cases topping 3000 for the first time last month, though they brought fewer critical cases and deaths.
The KDCA reported 1508 new cases for Friday.
Australian Associated Press