(ATTN: ADDS remarks, details in paras 4-5, last 3 paras, photo)
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, July 13 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Wednesday that the government will expand eligibility for the fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot to people aged 50 and older as well as people aged 18 and older who have underlying health conditions.
The move comes as the nation is facing another wave of virus resurgence, driven by the fast spread of the highly contagious mutation of the omicron strains, BA.5, which is known to be more contagious and better able to escape immunity compared with earlier versions.
"With the spread of BA.5 mutations, the resurgence is starting faster than originally expected," Han told a virus response meeting.
With the government broadening eligibility for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, Han said the government "strongly advises" eligible people to receive the fourth vaccine shots.
Han said a fourth vaccine shot can decrease the risk of infection and severe illness with COVID-19.
Currently, people aged 60 and older and people who have an immune disorder are eligible for the fourth COVID-19 vaccine shots.
Han said the government will maintain a seven-day quarantine for people who are infected with the virus.
Citing experts, Han said daily infections are expected to top 200,000 between mid-August and end-September.
Han said the government plans to secure enough hospital beds to cope with a situation where daily infections reach 200,000.
By the end of this month, the government will expand the number of "one-stop" COVID-19 treatment centers, where people can take virus tests, get in-person medical care services and receive antiviral drugs, to 10,000 from the current 6,338, Han said.
The nation's new coronavirus cases surged to a two-month high of over 37,000 on Tuesday, marking the highest figure since May 11.
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