U.S., of all places, warns against travel to Korea due to Covid
The U.S. warned its people not to travel to Korea because of the spread of Covid-19 here.
Both the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised their travel advisories for Korea on Monday to the most severe categories: “Level 4: Do Not Travel” for the State Department and “Level 4: Very high level of Covid-19” for the CDC.
If a trip to Korea was inevitable, the CDC advised travelers to get vaccinated and boosted before leaving. Even if travelers are up to date with their vaccines, they may still be at risk of getting or spreading the virus, the CDC warned.
The CDC’s Level 4 travel health notice is issued if a country reports more than 500 new cases per 100,000 population over the past 28 days. Korea reported 696 infections per 100,000 people reported in the last seven days.
Previously Korea had been under a “Level 3: High” warning, which recommends unvaccinated travelers to avoid nonessential travel to the country.
A total of 137 countries are under the CDC’s highest warning level with Belarus, Azerbaijan, Comoros, French Polynesia, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon added along with Korea.
Korea has seen soaring infections since Omicron became its dominant strain of Covid-19.
The daily infection count broke the 10,000 mark for the first time on Jan. 26, and just a week later, on Feb. 2, it surpassed 20,000.
Daily cases topped 50,000 on Feb. 10 and stayed above that mark for six days in a row by Tuesday.
Despite facing the worst virus wave yet, the government hinted at easing social distancing measures, possibly this Friday.
“We are planning to come up with a decision within this week,” said Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum in a KBS television interview on Monday. “We will make a decision that does not fuel the spread of Omicron while also relieving the burden [on small business owners].”
Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said she “agrees with the need to gradually ease the distancing measures.”
“It is necessary to balance the socio-economic impact and the impact on public health measures by adjusting restrictions put on business hours, the size of private gatherings, and the scope of vaccine passes,” Jeong said.
Since December, Korea has been under a social distancing regimen that limits gatherings to six people and requires restaurants and cafes to close at 9 p.m. Other businesses and facilities considered to be less at risk, such as movie theaters, concert halls and hagwon (cram schools), have a 10 p.m. curfew. The measures are set to expire this Sunday.
In addition, Jeong said the government is considering ending the digital check-in system based on QR codes or calling a designated number.
Currently, QR scanners are installed at many venues in Korea, which are used to check visitors' entry.
However, as the country recently started making Covid-19 patients report their own past locations and contacts voluntarily, some say the digital check-in system is no longer needed.
But a vaccine pass system is, which also uses QR codes.
“Considering the cost effectiveness of achieving policy goals to minimize hospitalizations and deaths, we believe there is more need to maintain vaccine passes than the distancing measures,” said Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, in a press briefing on Tuesday.
The country hit another record number of daily infections on Tuesday, 57,177, bringing the total to 1,462,421, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The number of patients in critical condition has been rising too but relatively slowly, staying in the 300s for two days straight and recording 314 on Tuesday.
Sixty-one more people died of the virus, nearly triple the previous day’s 21 deaths. The death toll now stands at 7,163.
Following soaring demand for Covid-19 home testing kits, the government set a price cap of 6,000 won ($5) per kit, which can be bought at pharmacies and convenience stores nationwide. Sales are limited to five kits at a time.
To better treat at-home care patients, from Wednesday, all local pharmacies will be allowed to prescribe and deliver Covid-19 drugs, except for the antiviral pill Paxlovid.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]