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Omicron surge sparks shortage fears of home test kits

A person uses an at-home test kit for COVID-19 in Gwangju on Thursday. (Yonhap)
A person uses an at-home test kit for COVID-19 in Gwangju on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has demand for at-home test kits rising at an alarming rate, with major convenience store chain CU temporarily ceasing distribution to franchises.

According to local reports Monday, CU stores across the country have been unable to order new stock of at-home kits since Friday. This is believed to be due to a spike in sales during the Lunar New Year holiday last week, a CU official was cited as saying.

CU reported a 700 percent increase in sales of at-home test kits in the Jan. 25-Feb. 3 span compared to the same period in the previous year. E-mart24 saw home kit sales jump by 1,136 percent, with 1,045 percent marked for GS25.

Jan. 25 marked the first time the number of daily new COVID-19 cases passed 10,000.

COVID-19 has been rapidly spreading since the discovery in November of the highly transmissible omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes the disease. Cases in Korea shot past the 1 million mark over the weekend, with the addition of 35,286 cases on Sunday bringing the gloomy total to 1.04 million.

A similar shortage for face masks occurred in the early stages of the pandemic in Korea, when the entire population was limited to buying a certain number of masks per week for 137 days. The system was discontinued in July, 2020 after supply caught up with the demand.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on Sunday announced it will supply 10 million home test kits to local pharmacies as well as online and offline retail stores by Saturday, with over 76 million kits to be distributed by the end of February.

By Yoon Min-sik (