Covid quarantine to be exempted, but only for a few
Fully vaccinated people will be exempted from the mandatory 14-day quarantine after entering from abroad or coming in contact with a Covid-19 patient starting May 5 — but only if they got the shots in Korea, and not if they're coming from countries where highly contagious virus variants are prevalent.
"People who have completed the vaccination in Korea will be exempted from self-quarantine after close contact with a Covid-19 patient […] or have returned from overseas if they test negative on the Covid-19 test and show no symptoms," said Yoon Tae-ho, a senior Health Ministry official, in a regular briefing Wednesday.
The quarantine exemption will only apply to people who completed vaccinations in Korea and allowed more than two weeks to pass in order to have formed immunity.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) expects some 65,000 people to be eligible after completing vaccinations by April 21 — two weeks before the implementation of the rule.
"We do not currently acknowledge those who have completed vaccinations overseas," said Choi Ho-yong, a KDCA official.
And people entering Korea from countries where coronavirus variants are prevalent, such as South Africa and Brazil, will still have to do the mandatory quarantine even if they were vaccinated here.
The exempted people will be able to return to daily life straight away, but will have to take two Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and report to public health officials about their conditions every day for two weeks.
Earlier on Monday, Acting Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki announced that the government is considering easing quarantine measures for fully vaccinated people by using electronic vaccination certificates, or so-called "vaccine passports," to be made in Korea.
The government-made certificate is supposed to be counterfeit-proof and does not store any personal information. It uses blockchain technology.
The government also urged public participation in vaccinations.
So far, 2,586,769 people, or five percent of the population, received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 175,794 were newly inoculated on Tuesday.
AstraZeneca's vaccine has been administered to 1,444,013, while 1,142,756 received Pfizer's.
A total of 148,282 people, or 0.3 percent of the population, have received two doses and are fully vaccinated.
"The inoculation rate is eight times faster compared to the end of March, when around 20,000 people were inoculated in a day," said Yoon. "People who get their first shot now will have immunity in August at the latest, and be able to enjoy their daily lives more safely.
"If vaccinated, it will be convenient to use crowded facilities or travel abroad," Yoon added.
"The government will do its best to complete more than 3 million vaccinations by the end of April. To completely end the exhausting Covid-19 pandemic, we need more people to receive the shot."
More details of the exemption rule will be explained by Jeong Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the KDCA, in a briefing on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Korea's Covid-19 cases shot up to 775 as of Tuesday midnight, after the daily numbers hovered in the 500s in the past few days.
Local infections accounted for 754, raising the country's total caseload to 120,673.
The proportion of untraceable infections hit a high of 30 percent amid increased social activities due to warmer weather.
With concerns for a further spike in virus cases, coronavirus home-test kits will be available for purchase at local pharmacies or via online channels from next Monday.
On April 23, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety gave conditional approval to home-test kits produced by SD Biosensor and Humasis.
With the approval, the products will be allowed for temporary use in Korea until the two biotechnology firms roll out formally approved products.
SD Biosensor's kits are used in seven European countries including Germany, and those of Humasis are being used in three European countries.
SD Biosensor's product showed 82.5 percent sensitivity and 100 percent specificity in a clinical test conducted in Germany, while Humasis' showed 92.9 percent sensitivity and 99 percent specificity in clinical tests in the Czech Republic and Brazil.
The sensitivity of a clinical test refers to its ability to correctly identify those patients with the disease. A test with 100 percent sensitivity correctly identifies all patients with the disease. The specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those patients without the disease.
The two products can be used without the help of experts by taking samples directly from the nose. Test results come within 15 to 20 minutes.
They are less sensitive than the PCR test and the antigen method used by experts taking samples from deep in the nose, so they are recommended to be used as supplements, and not for Covid-19 confirmation.
Humasis announced Wednesday it is considering selling its Covid-19 diagnostic test-kit at 9,000 to 10,000 won ($8 to $9), or 16,000 to 18,000 won ($14 to $16) for a pair.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]