As a result of an unusual surge of illnesses caused by the fast-moving omicron variety, South Korea will begin distributing free coronavirus quick test kits to schools and elder care institutions next week.
Health officials announced the biggest daily increase in coronavirus infections on Wednesday, with 90,443 new cases, surpassing the previous one-day record of more than 33,000 cases established on Tuesday. According to some analysts, the country might witness about 200,000 cases each day in March.
While the omicron variety appears to be less likely to cause serious illness or death than the delta strain, which wreaked havoc on the country in December and early January, hospitalizations have been rising as the epidemic has grown in size.
To strengthen protection for unvaccinated children and high-risk groups, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, Seoul’s No. 2 official behind President Moon Jae-in, said officials will begin distributing free rapid test kits next week at kindergartens, elementary schools, and senior care facilities, including nursing homes and neighborhood welfare centers.
Schools will receive enough kits for pupils to use twice a week, according to Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye, although such examinations would not be necessary.
“We ask that children be checked at home with fast antigen test kits on Sunday and Wednesday evenings before arriving to school,” Yoo said at a press conference. “Please see your local health office for PCR (lab) tests if you test positive from those tests.”
Officials are arguing whether the country should retain severe social distance restrictions, such as a six-person limit on private social events and a 9 p.m. curfew for eateries, in light of the rapidly expanding omicron surge.
Struggling company owners have demanded that the regulations be repealed, questioning their relevance in the face of increasingly expanding instances.
However, health experts worry that removing social barriers might allow transmissions to spiral out of control, putting further strain on already overworked health and government personnel while endangering high-risk populations including children under the age of 12 who have not yet been vaccinated.
Starting this month, the nation has considerably loosened quarantine limits in order to avoid serious disruptions at workplaces and key services, which might arise if large numbers of individuals are regularly quarantined.
There are also fears that transmissions could deteriorate as campaigning and political rallies begin on Tuesday ahead of the presidential election on March 9th.
Before announcing more social distancing measures on Friday, Kim said officials will weigh both the pandemic’s mounting economic hardship and the risks posed by the omicron surge.
While persons who have been vaccinated or who have had COVID-19 before are more susceptible to omicron infection, scientists believe that immunization and booster doses still give excellent protection against serious disease and death.
More than 86 percent of South Koreans have obtained all of their vaccinations, with 58 percent receiving booster doses. Starting later this month, health officials aim to administer fourth immunization injections in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
This week, the government began selling Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine in hospitals and public health offices, adding to a mass immunization program that had previously relied solely on Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines.
Officials believe that the protein vaccine developed by a Maryland business, which is comparable to injections used for years to prevent the common flu and hepatitis B, would appeal to individuals who have been hesitant to take other vaccinations based on modern technology.