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03 October 2023

S. Korea to downgrade COVID-19 infection level to lowest like seasonal flu

By Yonhap

South Korea will lower the infection level of COVID-19 to the lowest category to manage the disease like seasonal flu, lifting nearly all antivirus curbs and fully returning to pre-pandemic normalcy, health authorities said Wednesday.

The move came as the number of COVID-19 infections dropped for the first time in nearly two months last week.

The country reported a daily average of 40,400 new infections for the week of Aug. 15-21, down 17.7 percent from 49,000 a week earlier, snapping seven consecutive weeks of growth.

"The spread of COVID-19, which started in the fourth week of June, has recently slowed down and turned into a decline, and the overall quarantine situation has been stabilized," Jee Young-mee, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said in a government meeting.

"It's time to shift our focus from counting daily cases to protecting high-risk populations," she said. "The government will change the COVID-19 infection level from Class 2 to Class 4 and manage it within the general health care system."

The measure, aimed at implementing a full transition to a normal state for the medical system, will take effect on Aug. 31, she added.

On Thursday, the government will discontinue the daily tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which has been in place since the outbreak of the pandemic.

But the mask mandate will remain at hospitals and nursing homes as a measure of protection for those vulnerable to the coronavirus, the KDCA said.

On top of that, the government said it will cover part of the hospitalization costs of seriously ill patients through the end of this year and provide vaccines and treatments free of charge to minimize the burden on the public.

Class 4 diseases, the lowest of the country's infection level, which include influenza and hand, foot and mouth disease, require specimen-based surveillance.

Patients infected with Class 2 diseases, like tuberculosis, measles and cholera, are isolated by health authorities.

COVID-19 was categorized as Class 1 in January 2020 and lowered to the second level in April last year.