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Korean health officials split over impact of delta variant

Son Young-rae, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare`s spokesperson, speaks during a press briefing on June 6. (Yonhap)
Son Young-rae, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare`s spokesperson, speaks during a press briefing on June 6. (Yonhap)


Top officials at two major public health offices -- the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency -- offered disparate views on the potential impact of the delta variant, first detected in India, on the pandemic situation here.

Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, downplayed the concerns over the delta variant in a closed-door briefing Thursday, saying that it did not present serious enough of a cause to delay the easing in social distancing rules scheduled for next week.

“From what’s been revealed so far, the delta variant is no more resistant to vaccines than the other existing variants,” he said.

Son said the alpha variant, first discovered in the UK, still represented the vast majority, or 84 percent, of over 2,200 variant cases spotted here, while the delta variant accounted for less than 10 percent.

“Korea’s COVID-19 situation is stable. The share of the delta variant is relatively low,” he said. “It’s not necessary to keep the current intensity of social distancing on account of the variant, especially considering the socioeconomic costs of such restrictions.”

But on the same day, Jeong Eun-kyeong, heading the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said the delta variant was “spreading at an alarming rate across the globe,” and that “Korea needs to ramp up efforts to stop it from getting into the country and spreading here.”

Korea found at least 190 patients with the delta variant as of the latest count posted Tuesday, plus some 60 people who were in close contact but haven’t been tested yet. Every week, Korea analyzes up to 15 percent of cases confirmed over the week to identify variants.

The commissioner said Korea was already reporting community spread of the variant.

“The delta variant is linked to at least three community outbreaks,” she said. She added that the country may need to prepare for the possibility of a third booster shot to defend against the variants.

The delta variant has spread to more than 80 countries worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The new variant was designated a variant of concern by the WHO in early May, and by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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