S.Korea parents protest over student vaccine pass mandate

FILE PHOTO: People wait in a line to undergo COVID-19 testing at a temporary testing site set up at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Heo Ran/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - Several parents associations in South Korea held protests on Thursday against a vaccine pass mandate for children aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 among teenagers.

From February, those aged 12 or older will have to show a vaccine pass to enter public spaces, including private tuition centres, libraries and study cafes. The exemption age is scurrently 17 years.

The mandate, however, has sparked uproar among some parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, citing potential side effects and reports of vaccine breakthrough infections.

At least 70 members of parents associations gathered in front of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency building in Cheongju city on Thursday, holding up signs that read "Vaccine Dictatorship".

A poll conducted this week by another activist group showed 93% of the more than 18,000 parents who responded were against the idea of enforcing the vaccine pass mandate on students.

Health officials have said vaccines offer protection against severe symptoms and the rate of adverse side effects reported among teenagers is lower than that of adults.

The wider vaccine pass mandate comes as infections among teenagers in South Korea have risen sharply following the resumption of full-time in-person classes in November.

Out of a 100,000 children, 210 infections were reported over the past four weeks, while out of a same number of adults, only 167 tested positive. New daily infections rose this week to over 7,000 for the first time, government data showed.

Children infections accounted for 8.3% of the total cases in the last two weeks and 99.8% of them were either unvaccinated or partially immunized.

South Korea has fully vaccinated nearly 92% of its adults, while 11% have received a booster shot. But inoculation rate for the 12-17 age group remains at 34%.

The country has said it will recognise overseas vaccinations of foreigners who have entered the country with no quarantine exemption and that they will be eligible to receive a booster shot and a vaccine pass, effective Dec 9.

Previously, South Korea recognised overseas vaccinations for only its citizens and foreigners who entered the country under a quarantine exemption.

It reported 7,102 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, slightly below the record high 7,175 a day earlier. Hospitals are treating a record number of 857 severe COVID-19 cases.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Himani Sarkar)

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