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- Date2022-02-10 21:56
- Update2022-02-10 21:56
- Division중앙방역대책본부 위기소통팀
South Korea’s New Strategy against Omicron
Tracing, Testing, and Treatment: taking advantage of limited resources, and thus focusing on testing and treating high-risk populations at the earliest possible time.
Osong, 10th February 2022
1. DIRECTION FOR IMPROVEMENT TO COVID-19 RESPONSE SYSTEM
The severity and fatality rates for Omicron are lower than Delta, and the majority of Omicron cases are asymptomatic and mild. Also, the Omicron variant has become a dominant strain in South Korea. In this context, the COVID-19 system may become less effective if all confirmed cases continue to be managed with an equal focus of resources. This may lead to an insufficient management of high-risk populations.
Such characteristics of Omicron have raised the need to improve the COVID-19 response system in a way to focus on preventing the death and severe illness development of high-risk populations while at the same time responding out of cooperation between the government and the private sector.
Thus, the system has been improved to minimize severe and death cases and keep the COVID-19 control and prevention system and the medical system highly sustainable. The improvement has also been made to ensure that low-risk populations can be managed under a general-level operation of the disease control system and the medical system.
The purpose of the system improvement is to take advantage of limited resources (e.g. diagnostic testing workers, contact tracers, healthcare workers, medical resources, etc.), and thus focus on testing and treating high-risk populations at the earliest possible time.
2. IMPROVEMENT TO CONTACT-TRACING SYSTEM
The KDCA has enhanced the efficiency of basic epidemiological investigation. Under the new system, confirmed cases are required to fill out a digital epidemiological investigation report by themselves on a website provided by a community health centre, and enter information on people with whom they have been in close contact.
Also, the targets for contact tracing have been narrowed to confirmed cases, household members, and people in facilities vulnerable to infections (e.g. convalescent hospitals, nursing homes, adult daycare centres, mental health facilities, and facilities for people with disabilities).
This way, with the new system, the KDCA has enhanced the level of the public’s voluntary participation in epidemiological investigation and the efficiency of responding to Omicron.
3. IMPROVEMENT TO DIAGNOSTIC TESTING
Under a new diagnostic testing system, eligibility for PCR testing at screening stations in community health centres is confined to high-risk populations aged 60 years and older, epidemiologically-related people, people with a doctor’s note on PCR testing, workers at facilities vulnerable to infections, and people who have tested positive using a rapid antigen test. Those not falling to the category can receive PCR testing if they test positive from rapid antigen testing.
The purpose of this new system is to detect and treat confirmed cases among high-risk populations at the earliest possible time and prevent the development of severe illness amid an Omicron-driven increase in confirmed cases.
4. IMPROVEMENT TO QUARANTINE AND ISOLATION TREATMENT
In the previous system, public health workers of local governments monitored and managed confirmed cases (symptomatic or asymptomatic) under home quarantine and isolation through a self-isolation app using GPS. However, according to the data released by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, the rate of confirmed cases leaving quarantine and isolation premises without public health workers’ permission was a mere 0.01%. This shows a very high rate of compliance with self-isolation rules among confirmed cases in South Korea.
Thus, the previous system has been improved in a way to more effectively manage confirmed cases and at the same time to increase the COVID-19 response capabilities. In other words, a self-isolation app using GPS is no longer used for monitoring of confirmed cases. Local governments’ public health workers for such monitoring will be reallocated to delivering at-home treatment kits and carrying out COVID-19 response work.
5. IMPROVEMENT FOR AT-HOME TREATMENT KITS SUPPORT
Under a new response system, at-home treatment kits are supplied to confirmed cases in the intensive care group such as those aged 60 years and older. The kits are composed of fever-reducing medicines, a clinical thermometer, a pulse oximeter, household disinfectants, and COVID-19 self-test kits.
Household members of a confirmed case are also allowed to go outside a house only for essential purposes such as purchasing daily necessities, receiving medicines delivered from a pharmacy, and visiting hospitals. Thus, with the new system, local governments have been granted an extended flexibility in determining the supply of daily necessities for confirmed cases under home quarantine.