Covid vaccine passes may soon come with six-month expiration date

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Covid vaccine passes may soon come with six-month expiration date

People wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 at a public health center in Songpa District, southern Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

People wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 at a public health center in Songpa District, southern Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

 
Korea is considering adding a six-month expiration date to its Covid-19 vaccine passes, health authorities said Friday.
 
The so-called quarantine pass system in Korea, a Covid health pass system similar to those used overseas, requires presenting a vaccination certificate or a negative Covid-19 test result when entering places where the virus could spread more easily, such as noraebang (singing rooms), nursing homes, indoor sports facilities, bathhouses, and clubs and bars that allow dancing.
 
Amid a surge in both new infections and breakthrough cases, health authorities are discussing setting a six-month validity period for the quarantine pass, said Lee Ki-il, first control officer for the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, during Friday’s briefing. The final decision will be announced next Monday.
 
“People in their 60s or older can receive booster shots four months after their initial series of vaccines, and people in their 50s after five months,” Lee said. “Since there’s about a one-month break when someone could get a booster inoculation after the five months since their last inoculation, we’re considering setting the validity period to six months.”
 
Citing breakthrough infections as the main factor behind the recent resurgence of the virus, health authorities stressed the need to get booster shots.
 
“There is only one way to prevent breakthrough infections,” Lee said. “It's most important to consider [boosters] not as an option but as the third shot of the primary vaccine dosage, and get inoculated.”
 
If the six-month validity period for the quarantine pass is fixed, Covid-19 shots may be offered on a regular basis every six months. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) is reportedly reviewing including the Covid-19 vaccine in the national immunization program, like the influenza shot.
 
The quarantine pass sparked debate over its implementation and loss of compensation within a government-private sector committee in charge of a road map for the post-pandemic transition to normalcy, health authorities said.
 
“Many people suggested that it is necessary that we also apply the quarantine pass system to teens under 19 going to places such as noraebang, bathhouses and events with more than 99 people, while small business owners and self-employed people opposed [the idea of expanding the pass],” Lee said.
 
Lee said discussions were also held on how to apply quarantine passes to indoor sports facilities. During a televised town hall meeting last Sunday, President Moon Jae-in said the government will consider lifting the quarantine pass mandate at indoor sports facilities practicing relatively static exercises, such as yoga. Currently, all types of indoor facilities are subject to the pass system.
 
There were also various opinions surrounding the issue of compensating financial losses of self-employed people.
 
“Representatives of self-employed people and restaurant business owners made strong arguments,” said Lee. “Seeing as the more the distancing rules are tightened, the more losses would increase, many said that loss compensation should accompany any strengthened quarantine measures.”
 
Korea reported 3,901 cases on Friday, with all but 19 locally transmitted, raising the country's accumulative caseload to 432,901.
 
Critical cases reached a new high of 617, staying above 600 for two days in a row.
 
Thirty-nine people died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 3,440.
 
“We are facing our biggest difficulty in the war against Covid-19, just four weeks after embarking on the path to the gradual return to normalcy,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said in a virus response meeting Friday.
 
In greater Seoul area, the current virus hotbed, the number of patients who have been waiting a day or longer for a hospital bed recorded 1,310 as of Thursday midnight, up by 370 from the day prior, reaching another new high.
 
The figure was at zero on Nov. 1, when the country kicked off its “With Corona” plan.
 
Among those waiting for a bed, 484 were in their 70s or older, and 826 had high blood pressure or diseases such as diabetes.
 
Emphasizing that the medical response system in the Seoul metropolitan area has nearly reached its limit, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the government is considering a plan to require unvaccinated people being treated for Covid, or Covid-19 patients who refuse to transfer to other beds once their conditions have improved, to pay part of their medical expenses, normally covered by the government.
 
“We will review [such measures] from the perspective that they should be held responsible for their own decisions,” the prime minister told reporters on Friday.
 
“Experts say that these measures could free an additional 130 to 150 more beds in the Seoul metropolitan area,” Kim said, but added officials would carefully examine implementing such rules, considering the state’s responsibility to protect its citizens from disasters like Covid-19.
 
The government is set to announce strengthened virus restrictions Monday, which was originally scheduled for Friday.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]
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