Virus situation getting out of control

Virus situation getting out of control

Foreign visitors in protective gears are seen in the arrival area of Incheon International Airport, Wednesday, amid mounting concerns over the potential introduction of the Omicron variant. Yonhap

Fear of Omicron variant spread looming; daily virus cases top 5,000

By Bahk Eun-ji

The COVID-19 situation in Korea is spreading to a level that is nearly out of control, with the number of new infections, critical cases and deaths soaring.

What is adding to the concerns is the possibility of the spread of the Omicron variant here as suspected cases have been diagnosed.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported Wednesday that there had been 5,123 new infections nationwide, Tuesday, the highest number since the first was diagnosed Jan. 20 last year, and up by more than 1,000 from the previous record of 4,115 a week ago.

The number of critically ill patients reached 723, also the highest ever and up from 661 the previous day, while 34 people died.

Amid the surging infections, the health authorities are on full alert due to a possible inflow of the Omicron variant, which is believed to be more transmissible than the Delta mutation and potentially resistant to current vaccines.

A married couple who arrived from Nigeria, Nov. 23, tested positive for COVID-19, Nov. 25, although they were fully vaccinated. A friend of the couple who gave them a ride from the airport to their home and their teenage son also tested positive.

The authorities are conducting a genome sequencing test on samples from the four to find out whether they had contracted the new variant.

“An examination of the friend showed some different aspects from the Delta variant, and Nigeria is a region affected by the Omicron variant. Although we have yet to get the final results, we highly suspect it is that variant,” Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, said in a radio interview Wednesday.

While the couple have been in quarantine since Nov. 25, it hasn’t been confirmed if their son and the friend met with other people and visited public places until they tested positive Tuesday. They were not restricted from leaving their homes or meeting others, because fully vaccinated people are not restricted even if they come into contact with a patient under the current quarantine regulations.

The authorities are also examining the other 45 passengers who arrived here on the same flight as the couple.

Two other people tested positive for the coronavirus in Ulsan, and the authorities are examining whether they have been infected with the Omicron variant as they entered Korea from Germany and the Netherlands where the variant was also been found.

Virus situation getting out of control

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae, right, and Jeong Eun-kyeong, chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, encourages parents to have their children vaccinated as infections at schools are increasing, during a briefing at the Government Complex Sejong, Wednesday. Yonhap

According to Japanese media reports, Japan’s first Omicron confirmed patient ― a diplomat from Namibia ― entered Japan via Incheon International Airport.

“We plan to strengthen diagnostic tests for people coming from abroad, and expand testing for the mutation if necessary,” Son said.

The government is discussing more measures to prevent the inflow of the Omicron variant, such as adding more countries to an entry ban list. Currently the ban is applied to eight countries ― Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa.

In the meantime, the education and health authorities have jointly urged parents to have their children vaccinated as the number of new infections among students is increasing along with full-scale in-person classes.

“We have started the full resumption of in-person classes but it has come to a crossroads again,” Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said in a press conference at the Government Complex Sejong.

Warning schools may have to switch to online classes if the situation at schools get worse, Yoo said, “School is not just a place where classes are held, but a space where children live their daily lives. So when schools are closed, our children’s daily lives will be completely disrupted.”

In order to increase the vaccination rate for children aged between 12 and 17, the vaccination period for the age group, which was scheduled to end Nov. 27, will be extended until Jan. 22.

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