The Seoul Administrative Court on Friday partially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who filed for an injunction to suspend COVID-19 vaccine pass mandates in most of the public facilities except for entertainment facilities. This is the second ruling of its kind following the Jan. 4 ruling that suspended vaccine pass requirements at all education facilities, including private institutions and study rooms. The ruling exempts department stores and super supermarkets (SSM) in Seoul from COVID-19 vaccine pass mandates. The Seoul Metropolitan Government’s vaccine pass mandates targeting adolescents aged 12-18 will be suspended at all public facilities, including restaurants and cafes.
The court acknowledged the necessity of the vaccine pass, but ruled that the application of the vaccine pass is excessive restriction of basic rights, saying that SSMs and department stores have a lower COVID-19 infection risk than restaurants and cafes, where people eat and drink, and adolescents are at low risk of serious illness and have no cases of death from COVID-19.
There have been complaints about the government’s restrictive acknowledgement of exceptions to the vaccine pass requirements, violating the basic rights. However, there are also concerns that the ruling, which came when the country’s COVID-19 surge was showing signs of abating after enforcing tightened social distancing rules from Dec. 18, might contribute to a resurgence of the virus. In particular, the Omicron variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the country around Jan. 21, and the Lunar New Year holiday, when many people travel across the country, begins at the end of the month, aggravating concerns that the country could see a surge in new COVID-19 cases. Health authorities predict that there will be 10,000 to 20,000 COVID-19 cases per day by the end of next month.
The vacuum created by the partial suspension of vaccine pass mandates will have to be filled by social distancing rules. The government decided to extend the current social distancing rules for three more weeks, but increase the social gathering cap to six people from Jan. 17. Regardless of the fatality rate, the Omicron variant is three times more transmissible than the Delta variant, putting a strain on the medical system. Japan, where the Omicron variant has become dominant, is quickly losing its medical response capabilities with the number of daily confirmed cases soaring from 450 on Jan. 1 to 18,500 on Jan. 13, more than 40 times in 12 days. Before Omicron becomes the dominant strain in the country, it is necessary to suppress the number of infections and expand the medical response system. Those who have not been vaccinated or who are subject to the third dose should receive the shot before the Lunar New Year holiday and it will be safe to refrain from visiting hometown and travelling during the holiday.