By Joori Roh
SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea’s health ministry said on Wednesday it will administer a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for people over 60 as the country continues to battle the highly contagious Omicron variant.
“The government plans to expand the fourth round of vaccination to those aged 60 and older,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a meeting, adding the infection rate in the age group has continued to rise to stand above 20%.
The country had previously begun providing second booster shots to high-risk groups, including those in nursing homes, as a surge in Omicron infections drove cases and deaths to record highs in recent months.
The Omicron-induced surge in cases appears to have peaked, with the daily infections falling to a third of the record figures marked in mid-March.
South Korea reported 195,419 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday midnight, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data showed, bringing the country’s total tally to 15,830,644 infections and 20,034 deaths.
The country will open booster shot reservations for the elderly on Monday and begin offering inoculation from April 25, KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a press conference. At least 10.6 million people are eligible for the latest plan.
Jeong, however, said the health authorities are not planning to expand the second booster shot programme to a wider age group.
So far, 316,608 people have received the second booster shot, with around 33 million people – 64.2% of the total population – having received the first booster shot
The health ministry also said it will announce any amendments to the current social distancing rules on Friday.
The country loosened COVID-19 measures earlier this month, pushing back the curfew on eateries and other businesses to midnight, and allowing wider private gatherings of up to 10 people.
Meanwhile, Son Young-rae, a health ministry official, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that a complete removal of all limits on the opening hours of businesses and private gatherings were some possible measures being considered as the effectiveness of the distancing measures “have been declining”.
He added the current mask-wearing mandate is also on the list of measures being reviewed.
(Reporting by Joori Roh and Josh Smith; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Kenneth Maxwell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)