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Pandemic

South Korea considers reimposing restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge

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Commuters wearing masks to avoid contracting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk on a zebra crossing in Seoul, South Korea, on July 5, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji

  • S.Korea reports 1,212 new cases every day
  • Movement restrictions in Seoul extended
  • Officials warn against reintroducing harder curbs
  • Delta variant is fired by young and unvaccinated

SEOUL, Jul 7 (Reuters) – South Korea reported the second highest number of daily new COVID-19 cases of all time on Wednesday, just days after it began easing social distancing restrictions in some parts of the country, aided by a accelerated vaccine introduction.

With the majority of the 1,212 new cases coming from densely populated Seoul, officials extended movement restrictions in the capital and surrounding areas for at least another week and are considering bringing restrictions back to the highest levels.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the country’s fourth wave of the virus, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, is spreading rapidly, particularly among unvaccinated people in their twenties and thirties.

Kim urged people in this demographic to get preventive testing “to protect not just yourself, but everyone in your family, friends, school and the country.”

“If the situation is not under control after two to three days of surveillance, we may have no choice but to implement the strictest of all social distancing levels,” said Kim.

President Moon Jae-in ordered military mobilization to support wider contact tracing and urged authorities to set up additional testing centers in densely populated areas, President spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee told reporters on Wednesday.

The daily number of cases was the worst since December 25, when South Korea saw a third wave of the pandemic.

Officials had sought a full reopening of the country in the past few weeks. Movement restrictions in much of the country were eased on July 1, although officials in the greater Seoul area held back as they watched the number of cases rise again. Continue reading

Health experts said the easing of measures restricting business hours and social gatherings outside of Seoul, as well as the knowledge that further easings would come, fueled public self-satisfaction, especially among socially mobile younger people in the capital.

Around 85% of new locally transmitted cases occurred in the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to more than half of the country’s population.

“While the infection rate has decreased in the over 60s due to the vaccination campaign, transmission continues in the unvaccinated group,” said Kim Tark, associate professor of infectious diseases at Bucheon Hospital at Soonchunhyang University.

“It’s a reminder to speed up vaccination for people under 60.”

VACCINATIONS ARE ARRIVING

Only 10% of the country’s 52 million people are fully vaccinated, while 30% have received at least one vaccination, most of them over 60 years old.

The Korean Medical Association urged the government to refrain from making hasty decisions to ease social distancing policies with low-level vaccinations.

The country received 700,000 doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine (PFE.N) (22UAy.DE) from Israel on Wednesday under an exchange agreement, along with a separate shipment of 627,000 direct-purchase doses. Continue reading

Some of the new supplies will be sent to the greater Seoul area for vaccination programs due to begin on July 13, authorities said.

Improved vaccination rates have helped bring South Korea’s death rate down to 1.25% and the number of serious cases to 155 by Wednesday, up from 1.41% and 311 cases reported during the previous high in late December.

The country reported a total of 162,753 infections and 2,033 deaths during the pandemic.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Jane Wardell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pandemic

Innovative Testing Gives Virginia Department of Corrections a Jump on COVID-19 — Virginia Department of Corrections

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Press release

Innovative testing gives the Virginia Department of Corrections a leap on COVID-19

December 06, 2021

RICHMOND – Last year, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) used an innovative method: examining wastewater samples at 40 of its facilities.

VADOC facilities offer unique tracking benefits as they provide small, controlled, relatively immutable populations that can quickly and clearly identify trends.

“Wastewater testing provides a highly reliable snapshot of a facility’s health for COVID. If someone has COVID-19, sewage tests tell us immediately, ”said Meghan Mayfield, VADOC’s energy and environmental administrator.

Under normal circumstances, patients may not show symptoms of COVID-19 for eight to ten days after exposure. Regular wastewater testing gives health officials a potential head start in fighting an outbreak and greatly improves their ability to monitor infection rates in the facility.

“The program is designed to detect COVID as early as possible to prevent the spread and suffering among inmates, employees and the public,” said Robert Tolbert, VADOC plant administrator.

The department was among the first state prison systems to conduct wastewater tests. It began testing last October and worked with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to conduct and monitor Virginia prison facilities on a weekly basis.

“We are always ready to work with our community partners to keep everyone in our community and our world safe,” said Harold Clarke, director of the Virginia Department of Corrections. “This is in line with our public safety mission to help people get better.”

Wastewater testing is also significantly more cost-effective than many other types of testing. Prior to its launch, health officials relied on point prevalence testing, an expensive, labor-intensive nasal swab measure that can cost up to $ 180,000 for a one-time test of all inmates and staff in an average-sized facility. For comparison, wastewater tests for a similar facility cost about $ 200.

“We have abolished the planned point prevalence tests at VADOC. Sewage tests are a much cheaper and extremely accurate predictor, ”Mayfield said. “We can use this data as a preliminary indicator of the presence of COVID-19 in a facility. By taking into account other factors such as community prevalence and existing COVID infections in the facility, we can use these results to make better decisions about running targeted point prevalence tests in each facility. “

The sewage process was developed after the pandemic broke out and may be used to track other viruses in the future.

VADOC’s approach worked so well that the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked VADOC to help validate the results of a new one biological diagnostic test device. This device, LuminUltra, is being tested in five state prison facilities across the Commonwealth and will help other state prisons and smaller rural communities monitor wastewater for COVID-19.

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Pandemic

S.Korea’s COVID-19 rules put some vaccinated foreigners in limbo

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A woman wearing a mask to prevent contracting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) takes a nap at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea on November 30, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji

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SEOUL, Dec 6 (Reuters) – South Korea on Monday imposed stricter measures to curb the growing coronavirus infections and the Omicron variant, effectively banning some foreign residents who have been vaccinated abroad from places like restaurants, cafes and movie theaters are.

South Korea recognizes the vaccination status of Korean citizens who have been vaccinated abroad, but not foreign nationals unless they entered the country under quarantine.

Some foreign residents, particularly those from Europe and the United States, were vaccinated earlier this year, when South Korea had not yet made vaccines available and not eligible for the quarantine exemptions granted to certain individuals in business, education, or humanitarian reasons became.

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How many people are affected is unclear, but the problem has caught the attention of several foreign embassies, which have been campaigning for a change for weeks without success.

“We continue to advocate an urgent review of the guidelines to ensure fair treatment of foreign and Korean citizens who have been vaccinated abroad,” Stephen Burns, a spokesman for the UK embassy in Seoul, told Reuters.

The Australian embassy is in constant contact with the South Korean government on this matter and continues to advocate a change in its policy, said Ambassador Catherine Raper in a post on Twitter on Monday.

The Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency says the directive affects a small number of people and is necessary in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.

“A cautious approach is needed at this point as there are locally and globally confirmed cases of the Omicron variant and the possibility of further spread in the community,” a spokesman said, adding that officials are reviewing the rules depending on the domestic outbreak situation will.

The KDCA reported 4,325 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, a total of 477,358 since the pandemic began, with a total of 3,893 deaths. The country has discovered 24 cases of the new variant of Omicron.

In response to the daily growing number of cases, South Korea has suspended previous efforts to “live with COVID-19”, instead imposing new vaccination record requirements and ending quarantine exemptions for all travelers arriving from overseas.

The problem for foreigners with unregistered vaccines will be exacerbated as previous rules that required a state vaccination certificate or a negative COVID-19 test to enter gyms, saunas and bars now apply to cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other public places Rooms were expanded.

Unvaccinated people or people without proof of vaccination can still dine in restaurants, but only if they are sitting alone.

“An example that South Korea is not yet a truly global, international country,” tweeted Jean Lee, Korean affairs analyst at the US Wilson Center.

In March, authorities sparked a riot in several major cities, including Seoul, by ordering that all foreign workers be tested for coronavirus. Some of these measures were dropped following complaints from embassies and a human rights investigation.

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Editing by Jacqueline Wong

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pandemic

Scientists call omicron ‘most mutated virus we’d ever seen.’ Why does that matter?

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from: Alix Martichoux, Nexstar Media Wire

Posted: Dec 4, 2021 / 9:13 PM PST
Updated: December 4, 2021 / 9:13 PM PST

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is the latest “variant of concern” identified by the World Health Organization. (Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images)

There is much that we do not yet know about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is starting to spread around the world and has been proven multiple times here in the US, it is too early to draw general conclusions. It is also not yet clear whether it is better to evade vaccination protection than previous variants.

But there’s one thing we keep hearing from the scientists who’ve taken a close look at the omicron version of the virus: It really has mutated.

“This is probably the most severely mutated virus we’ve ever seen,” Alex Sigal told CBS News. Sigal leads a team of researchers working to learn more about omicron.

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described Omicron as “the most highly mutated version of the virus we’ve seen,” including potentially worrying changes never seen before in the same virus.

Omicron booster: do we need a shot aimed at the mutated variant?

More mutations don’t necessarily make a virus any more dangerous. “In principle, mutations can work against each other,” Jesse Bloom, evolutionary biologist from Seattle, told the New York Times.

But viruses, like other organisms, evolve over time to increase their chances of survival. Of course, a stronger virus is generally bad news for us humans. This is why scientists are initially concerned when they see a strongly mutated virus.

Of Omicron’s many mutations, about 30 are on a part of the virus called the spike protein. This worries scientists because it could affect the portability of the variant.

Sharon Peacock, who headed genetic sequencing for COVID-19 in the UK at the University of Cambridge, said data so far suggests the new variant has mutations that “come with improved transmissibility,” but said that ” the meaning of many mutations “is not yet known.”

But scientists who looked closely also find that Omicron lacks some of the mutations Delta has that make it highly contagious. Chances are the Delta variant, currently the dominant strain in the US, is still more transferable than Omicron, so Omicron may never take off.

How to pronounce omicron, the new worrying variant of COVID

“That really is the big question. Do you know if it invades a population with Delta, will it be competitive or not? ”Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University, told CNN.

In addition to mutations that make Omicron more contagious, scientists are also studying any mutations that might cause more serious illnesses or that might more easily evade vaccines.

“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are any different from other variants,” said the World Health Organization. It is said there is no evidence – yet – that COVID vaccines, tests and treatments are less effective against Omicron.

Some experts say that any mutations in Omicron could mean vaccine manufacturers will have to adjust their products at some point. That too remains to be seen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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