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(LEAD) S. Korea to focus on containing omicron variant with tightened anti-virus measures: PM

Politics 16:46 December 06, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES figure in 3rd para; ADDS more info in last 5 paras, photo)
By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will focus on containing the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus till the end of this year as the country started to enforce tightened social distancing measures amid rising daily infections, Prime Minster Kim Boo-kyum said Monday.

"The threat of the omicron variant is becoming apparent," Kim said during a COVID-19 response meeting in Seoul. "Although we do not have a clear grasp of the omicron variant, what looks certain is that it is highly contagious."

So far, health authorities have confirmed 24 omicron cases in South Korea.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks at a COVID-19 response meeting in Seoul on Dec. 6, 2021. (Yonhap)

Kim called for thorough quarantine inspections on arrivals to the country, while conducting swift contact tracing for the omicron variant.

Health authorities already announced that inbound travelers have to be put under a 10-day mandatory quarantine regardless of their vaccination status till Dec. 16.

Kim also asked for people's cooperation and understanding regarding the government's decision to tighten eased social distancing rules.

With daily infections hovering around 5,000 and the number of serious COVID-19 patients continuing to hit new highs, the authorities earlier decided to impose stricter social distancing rules, adjusting the pace of the "living with COVID-19" campaign.

Starting Monday till Jan. 2, the maximum number of people at private gatherings will be cut to six in the greater Seoul area and eight in other areas, from the current 10 and 12.

Visitors to high-risk businesses, including saunas, pubs and gyms, have to show "quarantine pass," also known as "vaccine pass," to show they have been vaccinated or have a negative coronavirus test result.

Restaurants, cafes, cram schools, movie theaters, public study rooms, libraries and museums are among the newly included places.

Health workers in protective gear conduct virus tests at a makeshift COVID-19 testing clinic in Daegu on Dec. 6, 2021. (Yonhap)

"'Quarantine pass' is a measure to protect those who have not been vaccinated," he said. "This is not an unfair discrimination, but our minimum promise to keep for the protection of our society."

Kim said the government will also concentrate on boosting vaccinations, securing hospital beds and expand at-home treatment to alleviate the virus situation.

"We are trying to secure beds to a level where we can handle 10,000 patients a day," he said. "If we settle down a safe at-home treatment system, we can also lessen the burden on our medical response system."

In a meeting with President Moon Jae-in, Kim said the government has designated the next four weeks as a special quarantine inspection period.

He added that an inspection supporting unit comprised of 25 officials has been set up directly under the prime minister's office to help with the antivirus efforts.

Moon ordered Kim to review additional support measures for virus patients under at-home treatment and their cohabitants.

Family members or those living with virus patients opting for self-treatment at home are not allowed to go outside of their place of residence for at least 10 days. The government currently provides a relief grant to home-treatment patients and their cohabitants.

Moon also told Kim to look into measures supporting thorough epidemiologic investigations, including workforce reinforcement.


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