The government said Monday that it would virtually halt the vaccine mandate from next month amid controversy over its effectiveness.

At a Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters meeting, the participants decided to temporarily suspend the application of the vaccine mandate, called “quarantine pass” or “vaccine pass” here, to all 11 types of multiuse facilities, including restaurants and cafes, large-scale events, and the gatherings of 50 or more from midnight Tuesday.

Health officials explained that they would halt the vaccine mandate unless a new situation occurs, such as the emergence of a new variant form of Covid-19.

With the government's decision, public health centers, screening clinics, and temporary screening clinics will stop issuing negative response certificates, and service businesses will no longer require verification procedures such as QR codes.

The government expects the new measure to allow public health centers to focus on managing high-risk patients instead of issuing vaccine passes. The recent surge of new Covid-19 cases has overloaded the public health centers, making it difficult to manage infected patients appropriately.

"Our latest decision considered the changed quarantine system according to the characteristics of the Omicron variant, and equity by age and region," Minister of the Interior and Safety Jeon Hae-cheol said.

Jeon added that the vaccine mandate was based on the spread of the Delta variant. Still, the Covid-19’s spread has completely changed as the Omicron variant -- far more contagious but much less severe and fatal than the Delta variant -- has become the dominant strain.

"Some 3,000 central government workers and 1,000 military personnel will be sent to 258 local health centers to provide support in dealing with the Omicron surge," Jeon said

Jeon explained that regional and generational equity was another reason the government decided to suspend the vaccine pass.

The government has recently faced a series of lawsuits over its decision to implement the vaccine pass, with local courts deciding to suspend the implementation of some vaccine pass regulations.

"Such rulings have jaggedly tangled policies by region and age," Jeon said.

On Monday, new Covid-19 cases fell below 140,000, but virus-related deaths soared to a record high.

Korea reported 139,626 new Covid-19 infections, including 139,466 local cases, raising the total caseload to 3,134,456, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

However, the country reported a record high daily fatality figure of 114, up sharply from the previous day's 49 and the highest figure since the country reported its first Covid-19 death in February 2020.

The death toll came to 8,058, and the fatality rate was 0.26 percent.

The number of critically ill patients also rose to 715 from the previous day's 663. Compared with a week earlier, the figure grew nearly 50 percent, affecting the bed occupancy rate in hospitals' Covid-19 intensive care units.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, 48.2 percent of the hospitals' Covid-19 ICU beds are in use, up 3.3 percentage points from the same time a day earlier.

The quarantine authorities predicted that by the presidential election of March 9, there would be more than 230,000 new confirmed cases, including 1,200 or more severe cases.

"Daily cases are forecast to rise to over 230,000, and critically ill patients will increase to more than 1,200 around March 9," KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong told a regular briefing, citing the results of an analysis by local science institutes. "The peak of the current Covid-19 epidemic due to the spread of Omicron mutations is widely predicted by researchers from the beginning to the middle of next month."

Researchers have suggested various possibilities ranging from a maximum of 180,000 to 350,000 per day, Jeong added.

Jeong stressed that the government would periodically predict the situation of the epidemic and prepare for it according to the result.

Korea has fully vaccinated 44.36 million citizens, accounting for 86.4 percent, and provided booster shots to 31.36 million people.

On Monday, the country started expanding its vaccination campaign to administer the fourth dose to patients and workers at psychiatric hospitals and related facilities, as many of them are elderly citizens and suffer preexisting medical conditions.

Earlier this month, the country began administering the fourth shot to those with weak immune systems.

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