Quarantine to be scrapped for vaccinated overseas arrivals
Vaccinated overseas arrivals will soon be exempt from quarantine.
The rule change, effective March 21, comes as Korea battles a record number of infections and deaths from the Covid-19 virus.
In an effort the stop the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the country has required all inbound travelers to quarantine for seven days since Dec. 3.
Given the low number of imported cases, which now account for less than 0.1 percent of the daily tally, as well as the downtrend of Covid infections in other countries, authorities have decided to lift the quarantine rule for vaccinated travelers, explaining that quarantines "aren't likely to cause much of an impact on the domestic pandemic wave."
Of 350,190 new Covid-19 cases reported on Sunday, only 33 were from overseas.
The exemption won't apply to entrants coming from four countries: Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Myanmar.
To qualify for a quarantine exemption, inbound travelers need proof of three shots, or two with the second being administered fewer than 180 days prior to entry. For the single-shot Janssen vaccine, it must have been administered within 180 days. The vaccines accepted are Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Novavax, Sinopharm, Sinovac, Covaxin and Covishield.
People who contracted the virus following an initial vaccination course will also be exempt from quarantine.
All unvaccinated people, even those recovered from Covid-19, will still be subject to the current 7-day mandatory quarantine, authorities said. This includes children under 12 or people who couldn't get a vaccine due to medical reasons.
Children under 6 will be exempted from quarantine if all guardians who enter the country with them are fully vaccinated.
The vaccination record will be checked through the country's new quarantine information pre-entry system, known as Q-Code, upon arrival. People vaccinated in Korea will have their records automatically registered. People vaccinated overseas have to bring proof of vaccination and a copy of an ID card to a public health center in Korea. The information required includes name, date of birth, vaccine type, date of vaccination, name of the vaccination center and the official seal of the vaccination site or the national health authority.
From April 1, people inoculated outside Korea will be able to submit the required records directly into the Q-Code system online and get exempted from quarantine.
With the quarantine being dropped, so are restrictions on arrivals using public transportation. From April 1, arrivals can use public transportation to leave the airport.
From last Thursday, testing requirements for visitors were changed. Previously, three polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were required — before arrival, the day after their arrival and the sixth to seventh day after arrival. Now, the third test can be a rapid antigen test.
Starting Monday, Korea is changing its testing system for the coronavirus. It now accepts rapid antigen test results conducted at medical clinics or hospitals for the diagnosis of Covid-19.
Under the new system, after receiving a rapid antigen test from any of the 7,588 designated respiratory medical clinics nationwide and testing positive, people will be able to receive treatment, consultations and prescriptions without having to take an additional PCR test. Those over the age of 59 will immediately be able to get the Paxlovid oral antivirus treatment.
The list of available medical clinics and hospitals can be viewed on the website of Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service (hira.or.kr) or the government-run Covid-19 website (ncov.mohw.go.kr). The testing fee will remain the same, costing around 5,000 won ($4).
Health authorities believe the new testing system will allow people in high-risk groups to receive the pills earlier, and enable children under 12, who are not eligible for vaccination, to swiftly get treated for Covid-19 at a nearby clinic or hospital.
The new system is expected to allow the limited PCR-testing capacity to be concentrated on the groups at higher risk of infection, such as those at nursing hospitals or those living with a virus patient, and block the risk of further contamination that may occur on the way to get a PCR test at a public health center or district office.
Authorities explained rapid antigen test results conducted at medical clinics or hospitals were 94.7 percent accurate.
The new measure will be effective for one month as the government believes the number of Covid-19 patients will peak over the next month, rising beyond the country's PCR testing capacity.
The government has forecast the current Omicron wave to peak next week, with infections expected to reach 372,000.
Amid the nationwide school reopening in the first week of March, from Monday, students whose family members or cohabitants have caught Covid-19 will be allowed to attend in-person classes regardless of their vaccination records.
They will be subject to passive monitoring for 10 days and report to health authorities if they experience any symptoms similar to Covid-19. They will be advised to receive a PCR test within three days and a rapid antigen test on the sixth to seventh day.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]