▶ GOVT EXPANDS ACCESS TO ANTI-COVID PILLS
The South Korean government has decided to lower the age of eligibility for antiviral pills for the treatment of COVID-19 to deal with the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum announced Friday adults aged 60 and older can be prescribed the oral medication.
Since the country received its first batch of Pfizer's anti-COVID pill last week, it has been administered to those 65 and older and immunocompromised people at high risk.
▶ OMICRON WAVE 'INEVITABLE'
During an interagency COVID response meeting, Kim suggested it's inevitable that cases will rise because of Omicron.
He said the government's strategy is to "lower the height of a massive wave" of Omicron by focusing on quarantine efforts to keep down the numbers of critical cases and deaths.
In line with this, Kim said COVID pills will be more widely distributed to nursing homes and hospitals, and not just used for home care or at community treatment centers.
In addition, he said virus testing will be streamlined to better respond to an Omicron surge, with local COVID-19 screening centers also offering rapid antigen tests to those who are asymptomatic.
▶ KDCA REPORTS OVER 6,000 NEW COVID CASES
South Korean health authorities have reported another day of more than 6,000 new coronavirus cases as concerns mount over the rapid spread of Omicron ahead of the major Lunar New Year holiday.
A total of 6,769 cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, including 287 imported from abroad.
The number of patients with severe COVID in ICUs decreased by 57 from the previous day to 431, while 21 more lives were taken by the virus.
▶ CABINET APPROVES ₩14 TLN EXTRA BUDGET PLAN
The Cabinet has approved a 14 trillion won extra budget plan aimed at supporting small merchants hit by the pandemic.
The proposal passed today in an extraordinary session is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly next Monday for approval.
The request includes an additional 3 million won in relief payments for 3.2 million merchants following the extension of the government's antivirus restrictions, including a cap on the size of private gatherings and business curfews.
▶ OVER A QUARTER OF AMERICANS STILL UNVACCINATED
The top U.S. infectious disease expert has expressed concern about more than a quarter of the American population still unvaccinated against the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci described them as a recalcitrant core, adding they were 20 times more likely to die with COVID-19.
"We are averaging approximately 800,000 new infections per day on a weekly basis. We have 156,000 people in the hospital and we have 2,000 deaths per day. That is not a level of control that we should feel we can settle with."
▶ RUSSIA, CHINA BLOCK NEW UN SANCTIONS ON N. KOREA
Russia and China have blocked the U.N. Security Council from imposing sanctions on five North Korean officials in response to the North's recent ballistic missile tests.
At an emergency council meeting held Thursday on the North's four ballistic missile launches in the last two weeks, the United States called on the 15 council members to approve a press statement recalling that such launches violate resolutions and strongly urging Pyongyang to comply with its council obligations "and to engage in dialogue towards denuclearization."
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the council meeting was closed, said China, a neighbor and ally of North Korea, opposed any statement.
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