South Korean companies take precautions to block the spread of COVID-19 after the holidays

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By Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – Some of South Korea’s corporate giants have asked staff to test themselves for COVID-19 before returning to work on Thursday after the Lunar New Year holiday, as the break could fuel the spread of the highly infectious variant of Omicron.

Kakao Corp, operator of South Korea’s dominant chat app, went further and blocked employees from coming into the office for two weeks as the country’s daily infections hit record highs.

Many people in South Korea traveled during the holidays to see family, which likely led to an increase in infections.

Kakao has banned employees from entering the office until Feb. 18 without approval, with very few exceptions. Even then, the employee is required to self-diagnose with a test kit in a prepared space and enter only after a negative result.

After Feb. 18, Kakao will also deliver 10 home testing kits, which can be used 20 times, to each employee’s home so they can test themselves before coming to the office, it said in a statement.

Energy group SK Innovation distributed home testing kits to employees before the holidays and asked them to test themselves before returning to work, and recommended working from home, a spokesperson said.

Battery maker LG Energy Solution also distributed home test kits to employees to use before returning to work, a spokesperson said.

South Korean government agencies, including the Ministry of Health and Welfare, have taken similar precautions, a spokesperson said.

Although more contagious, the fatality rate for the Omicron variant was 0.15%, about a fifth of the 0.7% for the Delta variant, Health Ministry official Son Young-rae said on Wednesday.

“The number of confirmed cases is increasing rapidly due to the spread of Omicron, but the medical system remains in a stable situation,” Son said.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 22,907 new cases on Wednesday, up 58 percent from 14,518 last Wednesday.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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