December 20—7pm—Keeping a distance over Christmas and New Year’s holiday
Deaths: 67 | Severely ill: 963 | Hospitalized: 755 | New cases: 6,834
(Seven-day averages as reported on Dec 19, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
Last week, as the number of daily new cases climbed beyond 7,000, the government halted the “Living with Covid” experiment and brought back early closing times for businesses (9 or 10pm, depending on the kind of business) and limited private gatherings to a maximum of four people, provided they are all vaccinated. People who have not been vaccinated, either by choice or because of their age or medical conditions, may only enter a restaurant alone. This restriction does not apply to members of the same household, however, or to children, the elderly, or the disabled in need of care.
The new rules came into force on Saturday, December 18, and will last until January 2, restricting year end gatherings. Events are limited to 50 people, regardless of vaccination status, or 299 people if everyone who attends is vaccinated. For places of worship the criteria are more lenient, allowing up to 299 people who may or may not be vaccinated, or up to 70% of building capacity if all are vaccinated. In-person classes have also been reduced for schools, just a week or two before the semester break. The aim of these restrictions is to slow down the spread of Covid and buy some time for the healthcare system.
December 13—9:40pm—Vaccinating teens, booster shots in 3 months
Deaths: 57 | Severely ill: 828 | Hospitalized: 809 | New cases: 6,320
(Seven-day averages as reported on Dec 12, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
Covid-19 numbers in South Korea rose to new highs again last week with the largest number of new cases in a day (7,174) on December 8 and the largest number of deaths in a day (80) on December 11. Cases of the Omicron variant had increased to 90 (67 from community transmission) by December 12.
As of December 8, 80.8% of the population are fully vaccinated, and 9.4% have had their booster shots. The rate of vaccination for teenagers has been low, however. By December 12, just 37.2% of teenagers aged 12 to 17 had finished their vaccinations, and in the younger age group of 12 to 15 year olds, the proportion was only 22.7%. The rise in Covid cases has been particularly steep among these unvaccinated minors. Implementing the vaccine pass for libraries and hagwon (private academies) has been met with resistance from some parents who fear side effects for their children from the vaccines. The KDCA and the Ministry of Education is devoting this week to raising the percentage of vaccinated teens by mobilizing medical teams at local healthcare centers to either visit schools or have students visit the centers, in order to vaccinate those teenagers who have parental permission.
Another measure being brought in by the KDCA is the shortening of the interval between the second vaccine dose and the booster shot to 3 months (previously 4–5 months) for all adults 19 years and older. For those who previously received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, as well as others with immunodeficiency disorders, the gap will be 2 months. According to research from Israel and the UK, the booster shot should provide an effective defense against the latest variant.
December 6—8pm—Covid pass required for restaurants and cafes
Deaths: 45 | Severely ill: 697 | Hospitalized: 673 | New cases: 4,421
(Seven-day averages as reported on Dec 4, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
On Wednesday, December 1, the number of new cases hit a new high of 5,122 then hovered around 5,000 for the rest of the week. The first cases of the Omicron variant were also identified in four Koreans returning from Nigeria. The new variant has spread to the community and, so far, a further eight cases have been identified, bringing the total to twelve.
The vaccination completion rate hasn’t seen much increase in recent days, with the latest figure standing at 80.5%. Of the ICU beds designated for Covid-19 patients nationwide, 80.6% are occupied, and the occupancy is even higher in the greater Seoul region. Following these developments, the KDCA announced on Friday some renewed measures further limiting private gatherings and applying the “vaccine pass” requirement to more venues. From today until January 2, private gatherings are restricted to six people (of whom only one can be unvaccinated) in greater Seoul and to eight people (only one unvaccinated) elsewhere in the country. These limits do not apply to households. The Covid pass, showing proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test result, is now necessary for entry not only to indoor gyms, karaoke rooms, clubs, and saunas as before, but also to restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, cinemas, concert venues, museums, and libraries. An unvaccinated person may only enter a restaurant or a cafe alone. Minors aged between twelve and eighteen must also show a Covid pass to gain access to these venues, though this will not be strictly applied until February next year to afford time for this age group to be vaccinated.