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South Korea caught off guard by omicron’s summer resurgence

Yoon says no returning to social distancing

President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a government COVID-19 response meeting on Friday. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a government COVID-19 response meeting on Friday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol said Friday that the resurgence of COVID-19 South Korea is witnessing came earlier than he had anticipated, while ruling out returning to social distancing.

Yoon said at a government meeting on COVID-19 response that the “key goal” was to “secure continuation of normal life while minimizing deaths and hospitalizations.”

“The government is committed to protecting the health and safety of South Koreans and ensuring that normal life continues,” he said. His administration’s COVID-19 decisions will “not force sacrifices on people’s part,” he said.

Friday’s COVID-19 response meeting marks the first one to be convened by the president since the administration took office in May, when cases had subsided from the country’s deadliest wave yet led by the initial omicron BA.1 and its subvariant BA.2.

Yoon admitted at the meeting that the latest spread was “progressing faster than (he) had anticipated.” He said BA.5, the newly dominant strain of COVID-19 here, was “highly transmissible and immune evasive.”

The COVID-19 preparedness plan unveiled by Yoon’s transition team in April pointed to fall and winter as probable periods for a resurgence.

He stressed that the administration will let “scientists and public health experts lead the fight,” and that its COVID-19 strategy will be “guided by the principle of science.”

In particular, he called for cheaper access to polymerase chain reaction tests for people who aren’t eligible to get them for free, prompt prescription of the oral medication Paxlovid for older adults, and additional hospital bed capacity for pregnant women and other vulnerable populations.

South Korea started rolling out fourth doses of vaccines on an age basis in April, with 36 percent of people aged 60 and up having received their second booster vaccination as of Thursday. Currently, anyone 50 years of age and older and clinically vulnerable people aged at least 18 and up are eligible to receive a fourth vaccination.

Over the latest seven-day period, South Korea counted 77,571 cases and 23 deaths each day on average. At the start of the month, the seven-day average was 13,216 cases and six deaths.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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