As it battles a large coronavirus outbreak caused by the highly contagious omicron strain, South Korea will increase restaurant eating hours while maintaining a six-person restriction on private social gatherings.
The 109,831 new cases recorded on Friday set a new high, representing a 25-fold rise since mid-January, when omicron became the leading strain in the country. Almost 516,000 infections were counted in the last seven days alone, bringing the total number of cases in South Korea to over 1.75 million.
Long queues snaked around public health offices and testing stations in Seoul’s densely crowded capital, where hazmat-suited health workers handed out fast antigen test kits and took throat and nose samples from seniors and other high-risk groups.
There’s also fear that campaigning for the presidential election on March 9 would exacerbate transmission problems. Thousands of fans flocked to a rally held by ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung in the southwestern city of Suncheon, where they applauded, yelled, and sang his name. During a rally in the southern city of Sangju, Lee’s conservative opponent Yoon Suk Yeol also drew large numbers.
So far, Omicron appears to be less likely than the delta variety, which wreaked havoc on the country in December and January. However, cases are increasing at a significantly quicker rate, placing the country on the edge of a hospital overflow.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, Seoul’s No. 2 official behind President Moon Jae-in, acknowledged people’s dissatisfaction with extended virus restrictions and the impact on service sector businesses, but said officials couldn’t afford to reduce social distance too much at a time when hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise.
The curfew for restaurants and other enterprises has been extended from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., although private social gatherings of seven or more persons will remain restricted at least until March 13.
To enter potentially crowded locations like as restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, and karaoke venues, people will continue to be asked to confirm their vaccination status via smartphone applications or documentation.
During a conference on anti-virus efforts, Kim remarked, “Experts predict the (omicron epidemic) to peak anytime between late February and March.” “When we can determine that the (outbreak) has peaked and is declining, we will begin significantly lowering social distancing measures, as other countries have done, so that people may return to their cherished regular lives.”
According to the Ministry of Health, around 30% of the COVID-19 critical care units are now filled. According to the ministry, 385 virus patients are in serious or critical condition, up 100 from a week ago but still much below the 1,000 reported in late December during a previous epidemic.
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. This year, health officials began administering fourth vaccine injections in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.