Prevent a medical collapseCovid-19 cases have reached a critical milestone in Korea with the daily count topping 1,000 for the first time since the novel coronavirus was first reported on Jan. 20. That calls for a reassessment of our quarantine strategy. It must be entirely devoid of political factors. President Moon Jae-in must shake out of delusion — and the government, medical field and every citizen must work together to fight the crisis.
Since the first outbreak from a church congregation in late February, Korea’s quarantine was led by three “T”s — test, trace and treat. But the system has lost its effectiveness.
Testing should be radically expanded now. The government has ignored repeated advice from medical experts to make tests more accessible.
The capital region has become the epicenter for the third wave, mostly from young and middle-age groups who do not show serious symptoms. Starting this week, anyone can drop by 150 locations across the capital for free testing.
Tracing also requires more bolstering. It is not easy to keep track as infections have sprouted in small groups. Still, stringent tracing must take place if cases are reported from risky locations.
Hospital beds should be increased quickly. The government promised to add 10,000 beds for Covid-19 treatment, but has not seen this promise through. More than 500 patients in the capital region are segregated at home because there are no more hospitals to accept them. Due to a lack of intensive care unit beds, six patients in Gyeonggi had to be sent to Mokpo on the southern coast for treatment.
It would be shameful if a patient’s life is at stake due to a lack of hospital beds in Seoul which takes pride in having a world-class medical system. Authorities can hardly force the five largest private hospitals to yield their beds. During the outbreaks in Daegu and North Gyeongsang, the government used private hospital beds, but did not properly compensate for them afterward.
The government must coolly ruminate why the medical field is not as willing to help out as it was during the earlier part of the outbreak. The government has lost confidence from the medical field after stoking conflict by pushing ahead with a controversial policy to drastically increase medical students and paining doctors fatigued from their protracted battle against Covid-19.
The Moon administration must humbly accept criticism that it has been too slow in procuring vaccines. It also must seriously consider raising social distancing to Level 3. Despite the hardship, a de facto lockdown and voluntary distancing is the only solution to end the crisis as fast as possible.