|Medical workers collect samples for a coronavirus test at a testing center in Songpa District of Seoul, Saturday. Yonhap|
3 international students may have Omicron variant
By Lee Hyo-jin
The government's decision to expand its "vaccine pass" system to more public facilities, which will take effect from Monday, has provoked a backlash from unvaccinated individuals and small business owners.
The administration said Friday that it would reinstate some of its social distancing measures and widen the vaccine pass use in response to a record rise in COVID-19 cases, along with the emergence of the Omicron variant here.
For the next four weeks, the vaccine pass, which requires a vaccination certificate or negative PCR results to enter multiuse facilities, will be expanded to places such as restaurants, cafes, movie theaters, concert halls, indoor sports events, PC rooms, libraries and museums.
So far, the vaccine pass has been limitedly applied to high risk facilities including indoor gyms and public baths.
In addition, private gatherings in Seoul and its surrounding area will be limited to six people, down from the current 10. Up to eight people can gather in other regions.
Private gatherings in restaurants and cafes can include only one unvaccinated individual. For example, in a group of six, five participants should be immunized, while the remaining one person should submit a negative PCR test result.
The health authorities noted that an unvaccinated person will be allowed to enter a restaurant, cafe or a theater without submitting a PCR test result, if they are alone.
The tightened rules have provoked a backlash among unvaccinated people, who view them as discrimination, insisting the government is virtually forcing people to receive the vaccine by making the unvaccinated group face more disadvantages.
|A public petition posted on Nov. 26, opposing the vaccine pass system has garnered over 186,000 signatures as of 2 p.m., Sunday. Captured from Cheong Wa Dae website|
Two public petitions opposing the expansion of the vaccine pass were posted on the Cheong Wa Dae official website, Friday, and have garnered nearly 6,000 and 12,000 signatures, respectively, as of 2 p.m., Sunday.
A similar petition posted Nov.26 demanding the government to retract the "discriminatory" vaccine pass policy has gathered over 186,000 signatures.
"Considering the continuous reports on possible side effects of the vaccine, people should be given the right to refuse it without facing any disadvantage in their daily lives," the petitioner wrote.
Self-employed individuals, for their part, worry that the widened vaccine pass would lead to fewer customers and thus worsen their financial difficulties.
"The expansion of the vaccine pass and tighter rules on private gatherings, which came less than a month into the "Living with the COVID-19" strategy, have left small business owners in despair," the Korea Federation of Micro Enterprises, a coalition of small business owners, said in a statement Friday.
It urged the government to provide sufficient monetary support, given that the tightened measures which will be in effect for the next four weeks, would negatively affect their businesses in the end-of-year party season.
Omicron variant cases rise to 12
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 5,128 daily new infections for Saturday, a record-high figure for the day, while the number of critically ill patients stood at 744, down from 752 the previous day. The latter figure has stayed above 700 for five consecutive days.
The country added three more cases of the Omicron variant, bringing the total caseload to 12. The new cases were traced to an infection cluster at a church in Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, which is linked with the first cases of the variant in the country.
In addition, three more cases of suspected Omicron infection were reported in Seoul.
The three are all international students, attending Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Kyung Hee University and Seoul National University, respectively.
They were found to have visited the church and tested positive for COVID-19. The health authorities said whether they were infected with the Omicron variant will be confirmed on Monday.
The KDCA is conducting epidemiological investigation on 1,088 people for possible Omicron cases, among whom 552 were categorized as coming into close contact with COVID-19 patients.
|A notice attached to an entrance to a church in Incheon, Sunday, reads that the facility is shut down after multiple cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were linked to the church. Yonhap|