A sign at the entrance to a COVID-19 testing station in Seoul reads that rapid antigen tests are no longer available, starting Monday. (Yonhap)
The South Korean government said Monday that discussions on scrapping COVID-19 restrictions have begun as the omicron wave continues to recede.
“(The government) has started a discussion over what to do with overall COVID-19 restrictions, including a mask mandate and social distancing measures,” Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said Monday. Son added that the government is looking into a post-omicron scheme as well.
As COVID-19 figures have trended downward, expectations are growing that the government may put an end to the existing social distancing measures expiring Sunday.
South Korea’s COVID-19 restrictions currently include business curfews and a 10-person limit on private gatherings.
The government is likely to make a related announcement during a COVID-19 response meeting on Friday.
The country may announce its post-omicron scheme during the meeting or postpone the news to a later date, according to Son.
The government earlier said that it may lift the 10-person limit on private gatherings and a midnight curfew on restaurants and cafes after it found the social distancing rules had become less effective in preventing infections in the current stage of the pandemic.
The country’s outdoor mask mandate can also be lifted if related COVID-19 counts continue to remain manageable within the country’s medical response capacity.
The government sees the number of daily cases remaining slightly above 100,000 through the end of April during weekdays, when the figure tends to rebound with more tests.
Health authorities also consider COVID-19 deaths and severe cases to have already peaked.
They, however, warned that the government could still reinstate social distancing measures if a new variant of the coronavirus emerges.
As the country’s daily infections appear to settle down, the government has also instructed local health centers and testing stations to no longer provide rapid antigen tests, but only polymerase chain reaction tests to high-risk groups, starting Monday.
As for daily figures reported Monday by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, South Korea added 90,928 daily COVID-19 infections during the 24 hours of Sunday, raising the total caseload to 15,424,598.
The daily tally dropped below 100,000 for the first time in almost seven weeks. The country reported 99,562 daily COVID-19 cases on Feb. 22, but the figure has stayed in the six digits since then.
Daily COVID-19 cases tend to drop on Mondays due to fewer tests taken on the weekend. But the latest tally still reflected a recent downward trend in new infections.
Monday’s tally this week was down from the previous day’s 164,481. It was also down from 127,163 a week ago and 187,180 two weeks prior.
The number of COVID-19 deaths reported Sunday also was down to 258, falling below 300 for the first time in five days. The death toll came to 19,679, and the fatality rate stood at 0.13 percent.
The number of critically ill patients came to 1,099, down 15 from the previous day.
By Shim Woo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org