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South Korea expands booster shots as COVID-19 cases creep up

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – Health officials in South Korea are expanding booster shots to adults 50 and over as COVID-19 cases creep up again across the country.

The 40,226 new cases reported yesterday marked the country’s highest daily jump in more than two months, although hospitalisations and deaths remain stable.

South Korea’s top infectious disease expert Baek Gyeongran attributed the rising case counts to people’s waning immunities following vaccinations and prior infections and a major removal of social distancing measures since April as the nation wiggled out of an Omicron surge. Health workers are also witnessing a “rapid spread” of BA.5, which is seen as the most transmissible variant of omicron yet, Baek said.

South Korea had previously given second booster shots to people who are 60 or older and those with compromised immune systems. Officials are now expanding the eligibility of those shots to people in their 50s and all adults with pre-existing medical conditions. Weeklong quarantines will be maintained for people who test positive.

Officials said the country may see daily case counts of 200,000 by mid-August or September if infections continue to grow. However, they don’t have immediate plans to meaningfully elevate social distancing restrictions, which have been effectively stripped down to an indoor mask mandate over the past months.

Baek, the commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said the government will focus on expanding booster shots and securing larger supplies of antiviral pills to suppress hospitalisations and deaths. She said a return to stringent social distancing will be considered as a last resort.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol receives his fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. PHOTO: AP