South Korea cancels proof of vaccine, test to help virus response

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Citizens in South Korea will no longer require showing negative tests or proof of vaccination to enter any indoor space starting from 1 March 2022, removing a critical preventative measure during a rapidly developing omicron surge that’s elevating hospitalizations and deaths.

On Monday, South Korea’s Health Ministry’s announcement came as the East Asian country set another one-day record in COVID-19 deaths with 144 deaths, breaking the country’s previous one-day high of 112 set on Saturday. Over 710 COVID-19 patients were in serious or critical conditions, up 200-300 in mid-February, while nearly half of the nation’s intensive care units (ICU) designated for COVID-19 were occupied.

Nearly 250,000 people per day received free rapid antigen tests at testing stations and public health spaces in the past week. According to the health ministry, almost half of those came for 24-hour proofs of negative tests.

Park Hyang, a South Korean senior health ministry official, said withdrawing the “anti-epidemic pass” would free more health workers to monitor almost 800,000 virus patients with moderate or mild symptoms who have been asked to isolate at homes save space at the hospitals.

Since December 2021, adults have been required to show their proof of negative tests or vaccination status through smartphone apps to enter potentially crowded spaces like coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, and karaoke venues.

More than 86% of South Korea’s population of over 51 million is fully vaccinated, and nearly 61% have received booster shots.