Responsive, not preemptiveA second Covid-19 wave threatens Korea and other parts of the world, including the United States and China. In Seoul and nearby cities in Gyeonggi Province, over 1,000 have been found infected. Group infections are showing up in residential care centers for the elderly, who are high risk of death.
The rebound is the result of eased vigilance against the virus. Many of the young have taken the virus lightly due to the low fatality rate. Those who have to worry about their livelihoods also have begun normal business activities regardless of the risk of infection.
The government eased social distancing from May 6 amid deepening damage on the economy. It doled out 14.25 trillion won ($12 billion) in emergency relief grants to each household in May with a deadline to spend them by Aug. 31. The stimulus campaign has helped aid consumption, but with the cost of losing much of the alertness in social distancing. Business activities and quarantine measures must be in strict balance or otherwise can undermine the other.
Covid-19 actions by the central and local governments also may have weakened due to foreign praise of Korea’s containment of the spread. Latest results suggest quarantines have been responsive rather than preemptive.
They have not taken preventive actions despite the risk of cluster infections.
The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) enforced “strict quarantine rules” in capital areas from May 29 to June 14. The actions suspended opening of 8,000 public facilities. However, over 50 new cases have been still reported on a daily basis.
The R-naught, which represents the number of infections estimated to stem from a single case, was 1.2-1.8 in the capital region (meaning one person with the disease can infect an average 1.2 to 1.8 others), more than double or triple the 0.5-0.6 average in other areas. The capital region, where half of the population is concentrated, has become riskier.
The government announced it would maintain the quarantine rules in the capital region for “unlimited” period until new case figure falls to single digit. But it remains uncertain whether the existing action will be of any help. Experts advise a return to rigid social distancing enforcement before a second massive outbreak. A recent study warned that if the R-naught average of 1.79 from April 30 to June 11 is maintained, as many as 826 daily infections could be the result from July 9. Authorities must make ready a contingency plan and put the nation back under social distancing.