March 17, 2022 12:01
Workers paid on a daily or hourly basis like freelancers and delivery drivers increasingly shun COVID-19 tests for fear of losing pay if they are forced to self-isolate.
Some even report to work despite coronavirus symptoms like fever and dry cough, which is possible because health authorities no longer track and trace patients, while the Omicron variant is generally mild.
The trend is expected to spread now the government has cut down on support payments for people who are hospitalized or quarantined if they test positive. Some experts warn that this could lead to a growing number of "hidden" carriers.
One 58-year-old taxi driver has not taken a COVID test even though his daughter, who lives in the same house, tested positive on Monday because he could end up losing a week's income or more if he has to self-isolate. "One week of self-isolation makes a huge difference to the livelihood of people like us," he said.
A golf club in the greater Seoul area is considering guaranteeing a certain amount of monthly pay for caddies who test positive so they stay home until they recover. "This has become a dilemma, since we can't force them to test themselves every day," a staffer said.
Jobseekers are also shunning tests. A 26-year-old from Gyeonggi Province said, "I took cold medicine and endured the symptoms because I wouldn't be able to go to job interviews if I self-isolated."
Chun Eun-mi at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital said, "We need to come up with incentives for people who avoid getting tested due to potential lost income."
Meanwhile, the daily tally of new infections soared to 621,328 as of Thursday morning, just a day after it surpassed 400,000 for the first time. The death toll also jumped to 429 from 164 the previous day.
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