South Korea will begin treating coronavirus patients with Pfizer’s antiviral tablets on Friday, health officials said, as concerns mount over the spread of the highly infectious Omikron variant.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said at least 21,000 tablets, called Paxlovid, were distributed Thursday to some 280 pharmacies and 90 residential treatment centers.
Kim Ki-nam, a KDCA official, said at a briefing, “In light of the very high transmissibility of Omicron, medicine should play a meaningful role in controlling the number of patients who will develop severe symptoms, even if the strain is relatively low.” be less serious.”
The KDCA said the drug would be used to treat more than 1,000 people a day, with priority groups including patients at high risk of serious illness, people 65 years of age or older and patients with low immunity.
Another 10,000 pills are expected in the month.
Pfizer has said that Paxlovid was about 90% effective in preventing hospitalization and mortality, and data suggested it retains its effectiveness against Omicron.
South Korea is exploring additional pharmaceutical tools to address the surge in infections caused by the Omicron variant. It approved the use of Novavax Inc.’s vaccine on Wednesday.
Since the pandemic began, the country of 52 million people has been one of the success stories of coronavirus mitigation, with a total of 679,030 cases and 6,210 deaths, largely achieved with masks and social distancing.
The KDCA on Wednesday reported another record tally for imported COVID-19 cases at 391, amid a tally for the day of 4,167 infections.
A KDCA official said the number of South Koreans who tested positive after attending a consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas last week rose to 119, including some Omicron cases.
The Omicron variant makes up a small fraction of its total cases but in the past two weeks that share has more than tripled to about 12.5%.
Health officials have warned that it could be major this month, as in the United States and much of Europe, and that daily highs could rise to an unprecedented 20,000 next month.
The government will decide on Friday whether to extend the social distancing rules, which were reinstated in mid-December, as daily infections hit a new high of nearly 8,000.
KDCA data shows that as of Wednesday, about 90% of South Korean adults have been fully vaccinated and 55% have been given a booster shot.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a press release)