South Korea extends COVID-19 rules amid post-holiday surge
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea extended limits on indoor gatherings on Friday as health workers reported the fourth consecutive day of record coronavirus cases, following the Lunar New Year holiday.
Announcing the decision at a government meeting, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum cited the “inexorable” spread of the virus caused by the highly contagious variant of omicron, even as he acknowledged public fatigue with the pandemic restrictions.
The 27,443 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency are 4,500 more than the previous one-day record set on Thursday, reflecting an acceleration in transmissions after the holidays this week.
Amid the virus outbreak, health workers are struggling to cope with a sudden surge in COVID-19 patients at home, including delivering Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills for treatment.
At least until February 20, authorities will limit all private social gatherings between those who are fully vaccinated to six people, while requiring unvaccinated people to eat or drink alone in restaurants and cafes. Public indoor dining is prohibited after 9 p.m.
Proof of vaccination or a recent negative test is also required to enter potentially crowded places such as restaurants, nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gymnasiums.
The widespread use of rapid antigen test kits, which experts say may not detect the omicron variant, has raised concerns that infected people may also continue to venture out in public, having obtained a fake test. negative.
Kim, Seoul’s No. 2 official behind President Moon Jae-in, said South Korea could resume measures to restore pre-pandemic normalcy if it becomes clear the hospital system can withstand the surge caused. by omicron without strict social distancing rules, but he didn’t. t further specify the criteria for this decision.
As of Thursday, 257 patients infected with the virus were in serious or critical conditions while less than 15% of intensive care units designated for the treatment of COVID-19 were occupied. The country has reported around 20 deaths a day in recent weeks, compared with 50 to 100 daily deaths in December and early January, when it was hit hard by the delta variant.
South Korea has shortened quarantine periods for fully vaccinated people who test positive and refocused its testing strategy around rapid tests, so that more accurate lab tests are mainly reserved for priority groups, including people aged 60 or over.
But the virus surge has strained the contact tracing efforts of health workers.
“With so many cases diagnosed, local public health units are faced with multiple administrative burdens,” Deputy Health Minister Lee Ki-il said during a briefing.
As of Friday, more than 104,000 people with mild to moderate symptoms were being treated at home, Lee said.