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South Korea ends Covid-19 response, disbands disaster management headquarters

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A person undergoes a test to identify whether she has caught the Covid-19 or not at a screening site in Yongsan, central Seoul in last August. [YONHAP]
A person undergoes a test to identify whether she has caught the Covid-19 or not at a screening site in Yongsan, central Seoul in last August. [YONHAP]

The government disbanded the central authority dedicated to Covid-19 management on Friday, marking the end of a four-year-long pandemic response.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has decided to lower the crisis level to the lowest level, “interest,” from the second highest level, “alert,“ of its four-tier system starting May 1.

As per the adjustment, the Central Disaster Management Headquarters — the primary control tower overseeing the Covid-19 response — will be “no longer operational.” The headquarters has been running for four years and three months since January 2020.

Patients and visitors will no longer be mandated to wear face masks in general and large hospitals, starting next month. Also, Covid-19 testing requirements prior to hospitalization will be lifted.

Yet, patients could be advised to get tested or wear masks upon each health care facility’s discretion.

The recommended period of isolation for Covid-19 patients will be shortened from the current five days to patients isolating for one extra day after symptoms have disappeared.

Korea has shown a flattened curve for the Covid-19 epidemic. The country had a total of 2,283 patients in the second week of April. In March, the country saw over 4,000 patients weekly.

With nearly all restrictions and quarantine measures being phased out around the country, the Covid-19 has entered an endemic state where the virus constantly exists in society.

The KDCA said no new virus variant that might spike infections has been observed lately.

The free of charge Covid-19 vaccination service to all Korean nationals will end this year.

Only people at high risk — those who suffer autoimmune disorders or older adults aged over 65 — will be eligible to receive free vaccination once their seasonal shots for the year 2023-2024 are completed.

The government will no longer track patients who test positive for Covid-19. Management of the Covid-19 virus will be integrated into a comprehensive monitoring system of respiratory diseases.

Last August, Korea lowered the status of the virus to the same level as influenza.

Commissioner of the KDCA, Jee Young-mee, said Friday that “nearly all nations across the globe have removed the emergency response system for Covid-19.”

“The virus outbreak has been maintaining a stable situation domestically.”

Jee credited “medical professionals, officials who enacted quarantine and public health measures and Koreans who cooperated with the government’s pandemic policies,” adding that they “helped the country conquer the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), Jee Young-mee, presides over a Central Disaster Management Headquarters meeting on Friday. [KOREA DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION AGENCY]
A commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), Jee Young-mee, presides over a Central Disaster Management Headquarters meeting on Friday. [KOREA DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION AGENCY]

BY LEE SOO-JUNG [lee.soojung1@joongang.co.kr]

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