Post-Omicron strategy is in the works
Korea will announce a post-Omicron strategy this week following a decline in Covid-19 cases.
According to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters Sunday, the government will announce a post-Omicron strategy along with adjustments to social distancing measures this week. The new strategy will unwind some public health systems operated over the past two years.
From Monday, rapid antigen testing will no longer be available at Covid-19 screening centers at public health centers and gu (district) offices.
People with suspected symptoms of Covid-19 can go to designated respiratory clinics in their neighborhood for a rapid antigen test. The list of 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 be around 5,000 won ($4).
However, priority groups for Covid-19 testing, such as people 60 or older or close contacts of Covid-19 patients, can still get PCR tests at public health centers.
In addition, residential treatment centers for mild to moderate Covid-19 patients and beds at infectious diseases hospitals will gradually be downsized. This comes as the government made home treatment the default for Covid-19 care, and as asymptomatic or mild cases make up the majority of Omicron cases due to the nature of the variant.
The occupancy rate of beds for moderately-ill Covid-19 patients stood at 34.1 percent as of Saturday midnight. The rate of residential treatment centers, which are being used by asymptomatic or mild patients unable to receive at-home care for various reasons, was even lower at 17.9 percent.
The government decided to open up some 7,000 hospital beds dedicated to moderate Covid-19 patients for other kinds of patients.
It will also gradually scale back the operation of residential treatment centers, and only leave some for patients who can't get home treatment, such as people living alone or the homeless.
Covid-19 I.C.U. beds, however, will not be reduced yet, as the operation rate remains relatively high.
The government is considering lowering the infectious disease level of Covid-19, which is currently classified as a Class 1 disease — the highest and most dangerous level — to Class 2, along with tuberculosis, chickenpox and measles. The downgrade is expected to be made as early as the end of this month.
A downgrade of Covid-19 could reduce the current mandatory seven-day quarantine period, or even lift it completely. All patients with Class 1 infectious disease need to quarantine, while only 11 diseases under Class 2, including tuberculosis, measles and cholera are subject to isolation.
Expenses for Covid-19 treatment may no longer be covered by the government if the quarantine mandate is lifted. The government pays treatment expenses only for diseases requiring isolation.
Korea’s Covid-19 wave has been on a slow but steady decline.
The country reported 164,481 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, remaining in the 100,000s for two days in a row and raising the total caseload to 15,333,670, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Sunday’s figure was down 29.7 percent from last Sunday, and 48.2 percent from two Sundays ago.
Fatalities and critical cases are decreasing at a slower pace.
The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in critical condition climbed back to the 1,100s at 1,114 as of Saturday midnight, while 329 more people died of the virus.
Although the virus transmission is slowing, half of all children aged below 10 in Korea have been found to be infected with Covid-19.
Health authorities said Sunday that the cumulative number of child Covid patients reached 1.86 million, meaning one in two children aged below 10 is infected.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]