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South Korean mayor apologises for nearly falling for fraud

2021 Jun 09, 11:28, South Korea
Image: Flag of South Korea

A South Korean mayor who had boasted of his city’s ability to secure COVID-19 vaccines has publicly apologised after it was revealed he almost got taken in by fraudsters.

Kwon Young-jin, mayor of Daegu, told reporters on May 31 that a foreign trading company contacted by an association of medical institutions in the city of 2.5 million had promised to provide 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to South Korea ’s government within three weeks.

The opposition politician had been highly critical of President Moon Jae-in ’s efforts to secure vaccines, writing “headless politicians, incompetent government, coward scientists” on his Facebook page last month following Moon’s summit with US President Joe Biden, where a donation of more than 1 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines from Washington to Seoul was agreed.

Kwon said in his post that the agreement was “shameful” for Korea, but has now been forced to eat humble pie after the offer he touted was questioned by Pfizer’s subsidiary in the country and dismissed by the country’s health ministry as untrustworthy.

“It was my mistake,” Kwon said at a press conference on Tuesday at Daegu City Hall while bowing deeply. “The image of Daegu was tarnished due to my careless words. I also caused deep wounds and disappointment to the citizens suffering from Covid-19.”

Moon’s ruling Democratic Party responded to Kwon’s grovelling apology with a statement saying “Daegu City’s vaccine phishing incident damaged the country’s international image”.

It noted that Daegu had once again emerged as a hotbed of coronavirus infections and had one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates, before adding that “vaccines must not be abused for political purposes”.

South Korea reported 454 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total tally to 145,091 infections, with 1,975 deaths.

Daily new infections have held stubbornly in a range of 400 to 700 for the past few weeks, making the government pull back from plans to relax social distancing rules.

The government plans to vaccinate 70 per cent of the country’s 52 million population by the third quarter of the year, starting with kindergarten and primary schoolteachers during summer break, with the aim of achieving herd immunity before November.

South Korea has lined up 192 million doses of vaccines including ones from Novavax, Moderna Inc, and Johnson & Johnson, but has had to contend with shipment delays amid global supply shortages.

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