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(LEAD) Gov't to lower age of eligibility for COVID-19 treatment pills from 65 to 60: PM

All News 09:28 January 21, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with details from 3rd para)
By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- The government will lower the age of eligibility for COVID-19 treatment pills from 65 to 60 to better contain the spread of the omicron variant, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday.

Kim announced the measure during a COVID-19 response meeting held a day after President Moon Jae-in said omicron has become the dominant strain in the country.

Until now, COVID-19 treatment pills have been administered to those with compromised immune systems and those aged 65 and above after the first batch of Pfizer Inc.'s pills arrived in the country last week.

A pharmacist checks boxes containing Paxlovid, COVID-19 treatment pills developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., at a drugstore in Seoul on Jan. 14, 2022, as South Korea began to prescribe and administer COVID-19 treatment pills the same day, starting with patients with a weak immune system and those over the age of 65. (Yonhap)

"The attack of omicron appears to have begun in full force," Kim said during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, noting that cases have been rising sharply over the past few days.

"We will try several changes to the current medical response system to more effectively deal with omicron," he said.

Kim said the oral pills will be distributed more widely to nursing homes and hospitals and hospitals specializing in infectious diseases. Currently they are administered only to COVID-19 patients receiving treatment at home or at residential medical centers.

He said the pills' distribution could widen further next week.

Meanwhile, rapid antigen tests will be introduced at COVID-19 testing centers to produce faster results whereas polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be reserved for high-risk groups, a measure he said will shorten waiting lines at testing centers.

In regions seeing a surge in omicron cases, the government will allow testing and treatment at local clinics and hospitals, and depending on the result, apply the system to the rest of the country.

Kim said the government will tighten entry restrictions for foreign arrivals by adding one or two mandatory rapid antigen tests to the current PCR tests, and further limit quarantine exemptions while shortening the validity of exemptions from one month to 14 days.

The prime minister assured the public that the government has been preparing for the current situation, securing 1,604 additional hospital beds for critically ill patients as of Thursday. Some 10,000 rooms are still available at residential medical centers.

"There is no need to be overly afraid or gripped with a vague sense of fear," Kim said.

Last week, omicron accounted for 26.7 percent of new infections in South Korea. The variant is expected to account for about 50 percent of new infections this week, with the overall daily caseload expected to exceed 7,000, health authorities said.


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