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[Editorial] Living with ‘vaccine pass’

Korea has to improve vaccine pass system, address fairness amid omicron concerns

The “vaccine pass” system is still generating confusion and complaints among citizens due to inconsistent standards for exemption and questionable rules for applications.

The system, introduced Dec. 13, is now applied to 16 multiuse facilities including restaurants, cafes, movie theaters, museums, cram schools and libraries. To enter these facilities, people must present a certificate proving they have been fully vaccinated or tested negative.

But the application of the vaccine pass has been inconsistent, leading to inconveniences on the part of many citizens and facility operators.

For instance, minors cannot attend a fireworks event in an outdoor area of a theme park, since it requires a vaccine pass. But indoor animal shows at the same theme park, which can host as many as 200 visitors, do not require a vaccine certificate.

Unvaccinated people can enter some amusement facilities and ski resorts, but cannot use restaurants, shops and cafes in the same compounds, due to the different vaccine pass standards.

People with underlying diseases and other sensitive personal health issues are finding it hard to get a quarantine exemption certificates because the authorities keep a very short list of diseases that qualify them for exemptions.

Pregnant women, in particular, are understandably reluctant to get vaccines to avoid possible side effects. But without a vaccine pass or an exemption certificate, they have to live an extremely limited life, unable to use a wide range of facilities.

The same problem persists for those with rare underlying diseases and other health issues, as the authorities are yet to broaden the exemption cases in a timely manner.

Of course, vaccine pass systems are widely adopted in other countries to rein in the surging spread of COVID-19 infections, especially following the outbreak of the omicron variant. Even though the approach itself is entangled in disputes over human rights, privacy and fairness, there are few other options to tackle the still worrisome levels of coronavirus infections.

The nation recently ratcheted up its efforts to contain the virus, but still added 5,409 new infections Wednesday, while the number of critically ill patients shot up to a record high.

Of Wednesday’s figures, 109 omicron infections were reported, raising the variant’s caseload to 558. It is not clear whether the government’s toughened rules of social distancing are strong and consistent enough to stave off another critical wave led by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Against this backdrop, the need for running the vaccine pass properly cannot be emphasized too much. The government and health authorities should lose no time in fixing vaccine pass-related problems, while encouraging people to go for booster shots.

Above all, the application of the vaccine pass system should be modified to improve fairness and better take care of those who cannot get the pass due to personal health issues.

Some critics earlier raised questions about why religious facilities are excluded from the strict vaccine pass applications. Under the newly revised social distancing rules, facilities can hold religious gatherings and events of fewer than 50 people, regardless of whether they have vaccine passes or not. This may appear unfair in the eyes of those who run small restaurants and cafes.

From Jan. 3, the vaccine pass system will be changed again in a way that allows vaccinated people to use multiuse facilities with a voice notice and sounds an alarm when people try to enter with expired passes.

With a third year of the pandemic just around the corner, the government should improve the vaccine pass system to battle COVID-19 -- unfortunately, in the longer term.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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