Record number of COVID cases in South Korea with 91.8% vaccination rate

South Korea has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with about 91.8 percent of the adult population vaccinated. Dr. Alice Tan of the MizMedi Women’s Hospital in Seoul said authorities thought the country’s high vaccination rate would curb the virus when they began opening the country in November.

“We lifted many restrictions, including allowing visits to long-term care facilities, convalescent hospitals and nursing homes. Unfortunately, we didn’t take into account that there has been a weakening of immunity, especially for people over 60,” she told Al Jazeera.

Most of South Korea’s seniors received their first doses in February and March.

“After the measures were lifted, there was an increase in transmission in the population, which is what we expected, but unfortunately there was also a huge spike in breakthrough infections, especially among people aged 60 and older. This is what caused the huge increase in hospitalizations,” Tan said.

In an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, health officials on Monday reintroduced some restrictions, including a ban on private public gatherings of seven or more people in the Seoul area and a requirement that adults confirm their vaccination status in restaurants, movie theaters, museums and other enclosed spaces.

South Korea is also closing its borders to protect against a new variant of Omicron after the first cases were identified last week, some of which involved visitors from Nigeria. According to the KDCA, health officials confirmed two new cases of Omicron on Wednesday, bringing the number to 38.

Although the emergence of Omicron has raised global alarm and prompted governments around the world to tighten borders, scientists say it is not yet clear whether the new variant is more contagious, more prone to evading the protection provided by vaccines, or more prone to serious illness than previous versions of the virus.

Tan told Al Jazeera that she was concerned about the spread of the Omicron variant in South Korea.

“The Omicron variant is prevalent in society in South Korea, and my biggest concern is that if we see a huge increase in cases, it inevitably always leads to more hospitalizations, even if the disease is less severe,” she said. “And right now our hospitals are overcrowded, we can’t afford a spike in COVID-19 cases on top of what we’re seeing now.”

South Korea now requires all passengers arriving from overseas to be quarantined for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.

The country has imposed a short-term ban on foreign travelers arriving from nine African nations, including South Africa and Nigeria.

Since the pandemic began, the country has recorded a total of 489,484 cases and 4,020 deaths.

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