We now take a closer look at the local COVID-19 situation AMID FRESH RESTRICTIONS and BROADER REQUIRMENTS of VACCINE PASSES.
I have SHIN YE-EUN here in the studio.
Ye-eun good to have you back.
Thank you for having me, Sunny.
Health officials are maintaining their alert level at its highest I hear?
You're absolutely right, Sunny.
Korean health authorities have issued their highest COVID-19 risk level for the second week in a row.
Last month, the country introduced a new, five-tier warning system to evaluate COVID-19 risk levels on a weekly basis.
Authorities said we're at the highest level of risk, denoting a situation where our medical capacity has reached its limit.
On Tuesday, the Central Disaster Management Headquarters said 7 out of 10 beds for critically-ill COVID-19 patients nationwide were being used.
83.6 percent of all beds in the greater Seoul area are occupied, while in other regions, this figure reached 68.5 percent.
Now starting this past Monday Korea is facing fresh social restrictions including vaccine pass requirements.
What has been the public response?
Well vaccine passes have been a controversial topic ever since they were implemented in November.
An online petition against the use of vaccine passes uploaded near the end of November has drawn more than 290-thousand signatures as of Tuesday morning.
This comes as more venues are now requiring vaccine passes starting from this week.
These include everyday locations such as restaurants, cafes and theaters.
Initially, proof of vaccination was only required for venues deemed to be high-risk like indoor sports facilities, nightclubs or singing rooms.
Unvaccinated people had to submit a negative PCR test result taken within the previous two days to gain access.
Though the government is allowing a one-week grace period so businesses can get up to speed, some have openly shared their discomfort.
"It's close to impossible to ask each customer whether they have been fully vaccinated. Some have been offended when I asked them."
"We now need to hire people to check users' vaccination status, which costs us extra expenses."
Authorities have also decided to expand vaccine pass requirements to students aged 12 to 18 from February, despite opposition from some teens and their parents.
They will require students to be fully vaccinated to go to cram schools, libraries and academies on public safety grounds.
But many parents and students are saying this measure would violate the fundamental right to education for unvaccinated teens.
Ye-eun controversy over vaccine passes is NOT CONFINED to national borders right?
Right, there has been much debate across the globe on the very question of whether vaccine mandates and vaccine incentives are necessary.
Some people around the world have been very vocal about their opposition to the vaccine passes.
On Sunday, thousands of protestors in Belgium marched through the streets of Brussels carrying signs that read "No to mandatory vaccination" and "No to dictatorship."
Take a listen to what one protester had to say.
"I am a natural being and I want to choose over my own body and my own free will, and that's why I'm here."
Demonstrations have also occurred in other parts of the world, like Australia, the U.S. and Switzerland.
Despite protests in Switzerland though, two-third of the voters there actually backed a law passed earlier this year to use vaccine passes. .
We will have to see how other countries, including South Korea, navigate through this controversial topic.
To give you a clearer picture of what the latest measures that are leading to such controversy look like, in Italy, stricter COVID-19 prevention measures have kicked off on Monday local time, with the country's 'green pass' now being dubbed the 'super green pass.'
That meaning, only fully vaccinated citizens, or those that have fully recovered from COVID-19 will be able to enter certain venues, which range from indoor restaurants and bars to entertainment facilities and services, such as museums, cinemas, concerts, and sporting events. A negative test result will NO longer allow people access. Where a so-called "basic" health pass has been newly introduced is at public transportations and hotels. In that case, a 48-hour negative test result is mandatory.
In the U.S., New York City is planning to expand its mandatory vaccination to the private sector. It's expected to take effect on December 27th, with around 184,000 businesses subject to this strict measure, which would be the first of its kind in the nation. Currently, local mandates are limited to the public and health sectors.
Israel meanwhile, which has confirmed 21 Omicron variant cases as of Monday, is in process of reviewing the need for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine, as 13 of the Omicron variant patients were said to have been "fully protected."
And governments around the world have been stressing that vaccine passes or mandates aren't to discriminate or penalize the unvaccinated. Rather, it's a key part of their COVID-19 exit strategy.
If we bring the conversation back to South Korea, authorities are standing firm, saying that their current vaccine-related policies will remain in place, because we're also seeing a spike in Omicron cases.
On Tuesday alone, we've seen the number of Omicron cases go up by 12, bringing the total tally to 36.
Of the 12, three were international students at universities in Seoul.
Early analysis appears to suggest that Omicron is even more transmissible than the Delta variant.
Now that we know Omicron has found its way into the capital Seoul, we're still waiting to learn the full extent of the outbreak that could be in progress here.