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S Korea tests new virus steps as infections reach new high

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – South Korea yesterday began enforcing new COVID-19 response measures, including reduced quarantine periods and expanded rapid testing, as its new cases jumped nearly 50 per cent in a day.

The 13,012 confirmed new cases were 4,400 more than the previous single-day high of 8,571.

It underscores the speed of transmissions driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which became the country’s dominant strain just last week.

South Korean officials said their early analysis suggests Omicron spreads more than twice as fast as the Delta variant, which spiked the country’s hospitalisations and fatalities during a devastating winter surge, but is also significantly less likely to cause serious illness or death.

South Korea also has a high vaccination rate. More than 85 per cent of South Korea’s more than 51 million people have been fully vaccinated and more than 50 per cent of the population have received booster shots.

People queue in line for the coronavirus test. PHOTO: AP

Still, there are concerns that a sudden explosion in infections could possibly overwhelm hospitals and cause disruption at workplaces and essential services by constantly placing huge numbers of people under quarantine.

Yesterday, the quarantine period for those who test positive after being fully vaccinated was reduced from 10 to seven days.

Fully vaccinated people who come in close contact with those infected will no longer be quarantined, but they have to report their daily condition to health officials before being tested within six or seven days.

Officials were also planning to treat most mild cases at home and reshape a testing regime that had been centred around PCR tests, which will now be saved mostly for people in their 60s and older or those with pre-existing conditions.

Most people will be asked to first use rapid antigen test kits available at public health offices, testing stations and pharmacies and get PCR when those tests are positive.

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