The government is considering expanding the targets of its fourth-shot vaccination program to people in their 50s to minimize damage from the upcoming sixth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It currently provides the second booster shot to older adults 60 and older, the immunocompromised, and those who live or work in nursing facilities or hospitals.
At a meeting to discuss the response plan for summer resurgence, the participants also discussed a plan to expand the second booster shot to the entire population, depending on the development of upgraded vaccines that can combat the new variant, but decided to protect high-risk groups first, officials said Monday.
Korea's Covid-19 daily tally fell to below 15,000 on Monday due to fewer tests over the weekend. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 12,693 new virus cases pushing the cumulative caseload to 18,524,583. The daily tally compared with 6,253 on Monday last week. The nation also reported 18 more Covid-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 24,605 amid the fatality of 0.13 percent.
Health authorities confirmed the country had entered a new wave of Covid-19, citing the fast spread of the highly contagious BA.5 strain, an Omicron subvariant, which accounts for 24.1 percent of infections in the fifth week of June, compared to the previous week's 10.4 percent.
Imported cases from overseas have also reemerged as a problem in Korea's fight against the virus, as foreign arrivals have recorded a triple-digit figure for 18 consecutive days since June 24.
Besides, a recent report from the KDCA said that one in three new arrivals who tested positive for Covid-19 at the quarantine stage at Incheon Airport initially said they had no symptoms in the health status questionnaire. The report also showed that half of the foreigners who tested positive for the virus reported no symptoms even though they had a fever.
Health experts maintained that the government should increase the number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which has been reduced since the peak of the Omicron epidemic.
However, with the BA.5 on the path to becoming a dominant species in Korea, a local doctor stressed that it is necessary to quickly identify and quarantine the confirmed cases to contain the scale of the spread.
"PCR testing is currently free only for high-risk groups, such as those aged 60 or older," Professor Kim Woo-joo of the Infectious Disease Department at Korea University Guro Hospital said. "Considering the impact on the livelihood and economy, the government should implement methods other than strengthening social distancing rules."
Professor Jung Ki-seok of Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital agreed.
"Considering the strong transmission power of BA.5, there is a high possibility that there are still many infected people hiding in the community," Professor Jung said. "The government previously said it could conduct a maximum of 800,000 PCR tests daily, and quarantine officials should prepare to meet such test volumes soon."
As of Monday, 44.63 million, or 87 percent of the population, had completed the full two-dose vaccinations, and 33.38 million, or 65 percent, had received their first booster shots.
About 4.52 million people, or 8.7 percent of the population, had gotten their second booster shots, according to the KDCA.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the government’s efforts to prevent summer resurgence, President Yoon Suk-yeol suspended his morning Q&A sessions with reporters earlier in the day, in the wake of a Covid-19 outbreak in the press room.
The so-called door-stepping session had been a daily routine for President Yoon allowing reporters to ask him questions on the pressing issues of the day.