CONCERNS over COVID-19 CASELOADS here in Korea are being COMPOUNDED by CONFIRMATION of the country's FIRST OMICRON INFECTIONS.
For more I have Choi Min-jung here in the studio.
Thank you for having me, Sunny.
Let's begin with details of Korea's first cases of this new variant.
On Wednesday, Korea confirmed five cases of the Omicron variant.
A married couple in their 40s contracted the variant after visiting Nigeria in mid-November.
Their friend who drove them home from the airport was also infected with the new strain.
Also, their son has also been confirmed with COVID-19, and we'll know if he is carrying the Omicron variant when further test results come out on Thursday.
Health officials are on high alert as the couple was fully vaccinated with Moderna shots back in October.
This also means that they could have come into close contact with many other people as they were exempt from quarantine after arriving in Korea.
Officials say that the couple and their friend are experiencing no unusual signs of illness, other than respiratory symptoms and muscle pain.
Apart from the three, two more people, have also been infected with the variant.
The variant was detected in two unvaccinated women in their 50s, living in Gyeonggi-do Province.
And it turns out they also traveled to Nigeria in mid-November.
Besides the five who tested positive for the variant, there's a total of four more suspected cases that are pending test results.
Now understandably there is heightened fear about a fresh wave of infections in the days ahead?
You're right, Sunny. Over the past month, some 5-thousand people entered South Korea from Africa and Europe, where the Omicron variant is spreading quickly.
Some experts say transmissions of the mutated strain may already be taking place in the local community.
At the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, President Moon Jae-in also acknowledged the situation as a challenge in the country's efforts to return to normal.
Let's take a listen.
"Our gradual return to normal has been a rocky path, and the new Omicron variant also poses a growing risk. The government will spare no effort in overcoming our current challenge and will stay on the path towards a return to our normal lives, while alleviating the concerns and anxieties of our nation's people."
And against that backdrop I hear entry protocols have been toughened at airports?
That's right. All travelers arriving in Korea, regardless of their nationality AND their vaccination status, will have to quarantine for TEN days.
The new measure will be implemented on Friday, and will be in effect for the next two weeks.
Those in quarantine must also undergo a total of three PCR tests.
That would be once before their flight, another after arrival, and a final test before their release from quarantine.
Foreigners visiting Korea for short-term stay will be quarantined at temporary shelters provided by the government.
Also starting Friday, the entry of non-Koreans departing from Nigeria will be banned.
But Koreans and foreign residents with long-term visas,.. will be permitted to enter Korea from Nigeria, but they will have to quarantine at a state shelter instead of home, AND take four PCR tests.
The same measures had already been put in place for eight other countries in southern Africa.
The government has also decided to suspend direct, commercial air routes from Ethiopia for two weeks, starting Saturday.
But the country will be chartering separate flights to ensure the safe return of Korean nationals.
And what are the guidelines for those who come into close contact with OMICRON patients?
They would be subject to 14 days in isolation, and there are no exceptions even for fully vaccinated people.
Currently, those who have completed their vaccine regimens are not required to quarantine. even after coming into close contact with a COVID-19 patient. But this rule will not apply when it comes to the Omicron variant.
Thank you for now.