“We already have secured a budget enough for treatment of around 40,000 people and have signed a pre-purchase deal for 20,000 courses,” Kim told a COVID-19 response meeting on Wednesday.
South Korea is also looking to buy other antiviral drugs, he said.
Merck said it plans a tiered pricing approach based on country income criteria. The US government has a contract to buy 1.7 million courses at a price of US$700 per course.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) had said it was also in talks with Pfizer and Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG, who are also racing to develop an easy-to-administer antiviral pill for COVID-19.
South Korean government had allocated 36.2 billion won (US$30.31 million) in budget for oral antiviral pills to cure COVID-19. It has been managing its mortality rate – 0.78 per cent as of Tuesday – and critical cases at a fairly low rate.