Korea to Scrap All COVID Restrictions by July

      March 30, 2023 10:15

      Mandatory self-isolation period for COVID patients will be cut from the current seven to five days in May and be scrapped completely in July unless there is a surge in new cases.
      Health authorities expect COVID to become endemic like the seasonal flu in the first half of next year as serious COVID cases and deaths have dropped more than 20-fold since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
      Along the way, the COVID risk alert will be reduced from "serious" to "caution" in late April, when the World Health Organization is expected to declare the end of the "public health emergency of international concern."
      Currently, patients who test positive for COVID must self-isolate for seven days. The period will be shortened to five days in May and patients in self-isolation can walk to hospitals or pharmacies for treatment or to pick up medicines. All self-isolation rules will be scrapped in July.
      The change also means Koreans will have to pay for their own COVID tests, though the government will offer support for high-risk groups such as the over-60s and immunocompromised people over 12 as well as seriously ill patients who need a respirator or ECMO treatment.
      They will also have to pay for treatments such as Paxlovid that have been provided free so far. COVID vaccine shots will be given free only to high-risk groups.
      But doctors advised caution since the vaccination uptake even among the elderly has stagnated at a mere 33 percent. "Vaccination is the key to a successful transition to the endemic phase, but there's no concrete plan to boost the vaccination rates," said Kim Woo-joo at Korea University Guro Hospital. "We need incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated willingly just like seasonal flu shots."
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