More tests needed to stop 3rd waveDaily Covid-19 cases remained above 600 over the weekend. The situation may become graver, as infection counts usually go down during the weekend, with test centers open only until midday on Saturday. Given the number of tests taken, the true count may have exceeded 1,000, eclipsing the country’s biggest single-day tally of 909 on Feb. 29.
The catastrophe could have been avoidable. The government belatedly raised the social distancing restrictions to Level 2 on Nov. 24, when the daily count had been hovering near 300 since the middle of the month. It tweaked restrictions, but didn’t raise the level even when infections reached 500 earlier this month.
The so-called “selective shutdown” also caused confusion for citizens and complaints from community businesses. For instance, boxing was okay, while kickboxing was banned in indoor sports centers. Sandwich shops were open but eating bread or desserts in cafes was banned. Self-employed workers argued they would feel better if all businesses were equally closed at Level 3.
Cumulative infections in Seoul have surged to 10,000. A battle with the third wave cannot be won if infections are not contained in the capital, which is responsible for nearly 40 percent of new cases in Korea. Yet city, health and police authorities were lenient with progressive groups’ rallies.
Union groups held rallies over the weekend, but it’s unclear whether they were rigorously contained. When right-wing groups held weekend rallies, even the president issued a warning. Police blocked roads and tracked down protesters with the help of wireless carriers. Noh Young-min, presidential chief of staff, even called the conservative groups “potential murders” for going ahead with the rallies in August, when infection cases stayed at around 100 a day.
Social distancing restrictions have been raised to Level 2.5 in the capital region. But that is not enough. Testing that averages 20,000 people per day should be increased. Pre-emptive testing can be effective, as the spread comes mostly from those without symptoms, who make up an estimated 40 percent of infected people. Testing should become available to 60,000 to 70,000 people per day. Residents in care centers or patients in hospitals should be taking tests on a weekly basis.
Daily cases could surge when more testing takes place. But if asymptomatic cases are identified and isolated through testing, the country can get a handle on the third wave. Rigorous testing must be accompanied with social distancing measures.
Vaccination could be possible later next year at best. To survive a long battle with the virus, quarantine should be effective. Instead of boasting about quarantine successes, authorities must act so as not to make mistakes.