World

S. Korea detects UK coronavirus variant, vows to speed up vaccination

SEOUL: South Korean officials are vowing to speed up efforts to launch a public coronavirus vaccination programme as the country yesterday announced it had detected its first cases of the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in Britain.

The new variant, thought to be more transmissible than others currently circulating, was found in three people who had entered South Korea from London on Dec 22, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said yesterday.

South Korea will extend a ban on direct flights from Britain for another week until Jan 7, and will require any passengers arriving from that country or South Africa to undergo testing before departure, officials announced yesterday.

Overall, the KDCA reported 808 new cases as of Sunday, the lowest since a record 1,241 infections were logged on Friday.

The authorities cautioned that the drop may be due to less testing done over the weekend and the Christmas holiday, and said on Sunday they would be extending social distancing measures until early next month.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has barred international visitors from entering the country for a two-week period to try to keep out the new contagious variant, its Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said yesterday.

The new regulation, effective on Friday, comes days after Indonesia banned travellers from Britain and tightened rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to limit the spread of the new variant.

Indonesia earlier this year banned all foreign tourists but made some exemptions for business travellers.

The world's fourth most populous country has struggled to contain the spread of the coronavirus since recording its first case in March.

Now, with nearly 720,000 infections and 21,500 deaths, it is among the highest in Asia.

It announced 5,854 new infections and 215 deaths yesterday.

In recent weeks, Indonesia's healthcare system has come under strain with hospitals in Java forced to add more beds as emergency wards near capacity.

A senior health ministry official on Monday said hospitals were in danger of becoming overwhelmed by a possible year-end holiday infections spike, with occupancy in the capital Jakarta already reaching 84 per cent. - REUTERS

WORLD