Deaths hit a record and cases remain above 1,000

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Deaths hit a record and cases remain above 1,000

People line up at a Covid-19 testing site near Seoul City Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, Thursday. [YONHAP]

People line up at a Covid-19 testing site near Seoul City Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, Thursday. [YONHAP]

 
Korea confirmed more than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases Wednesday for the second-straight day, while infections in Seoul hit an all-time high. A record-breaking number of nationwide deaths was also reported, as the pandemic showed no signs of letting up.
 
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced Thursday morning that the country added 1,014 new cases of the coronavirus the day before, after registering 1,030 cases last Saturday, 718 on Sunday, 880 Monday and 1,078 Tuesday.
 
Since Korea detected its first Covid-19 patient in late January, there were only three days the nation saw more than 1,000 cases — and they were all over the past week.
 
Among Wednesday’s total cases, 420 were detected in the capital, marking the first time Seoul saw more than 400 new infections in a day. The nationwide death toll was 22, also the highest ever.
 
When breaking down Wednesday’s cases by region, aside from Seoul’s 420 cases, there were 284 cases in Gyeonggi, 80 in Incheon, 44 in Busan, 30 in South Gyeongsang, 20 in Daegu, 19 in North Chungcheong, 18 in North Jeolla, 17 in South Chungcheong, 12 on Jeju Island, 11 in Daejeon, 10 each in Gwangju and Ulsan, and nine each in Gangwon and North Gyeongsang.
 
All 17 major cities and provinces added a new case except for Sejong City and South Jeolla.
 
The remaining 21 cases were imported — seven from the United States, four from Indonesia, two from Sweden and one each from the Philippines, Russia, India, Germany, Belarus, Hungary, Algeria and Tunisia.
 
A total of 634 patients had died as of Wednesday at midnight, while 33,610 people had recovered. Korea has counted 46,453 Covid-19 cases in all.
 
 
Even as daily infections are in the four-digits, health authorities Thursday remained cautious about suggesting they were about to implement the most stringent Level 3 social distancing measures soon, saying they were still discussing the matter.
 
Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi are currently subject to Level 2.5 restrictions, the second-highest level in the five-tier social distancing scheme controlled by the central government. Most of the rest of the country is subject to looser Level 2 rules.
 
The five levels are Level 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 3.
 
Sohn Young-rae, a spokesperson for the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, said in a Thursday press briefing that even if the central government does decide to enforce Level 3 measures, the announcement won’t be “suddenly” made. In the same breath, Sohn said Level 3 doesn’t seem to be absolutely necessary in current circumstances, implying authorities might hold out longer.
 
“We mainly look at two conceptual criteria when deciding whether to go into Level 3, which is whether [the country’s] preventive control net has been [undermined] and whether our medical system has hit capacity,” said Sohn.  
 
The health official said Korea seemed to be faring relatively well on both fronts.
 
If Level 3 restrictions are imposed, Sohn implied some measures could be different from the set revealed last month as health authorities were introducing the new five-tier scheme to replace the old three-tier system.
 
Whether they’re more rigid or loose comes down to trends in the current spread.
 
On large supermarkets, which are supposed to close under the Level 3 guidelines unveiled last month, Sohn said Thursday they could be allowed to stay open until 9 p.m.
 
Sohn said the day before in a separate briefing that restaurants may have to offer take-out services throughout the entire day, while any gatherings of five people or more could be banned. These revisions would be harsher than the Level 3 guidelines revealed last month, which dictate that restaurants would be allowed to offer in-door services up to 9 p.m. and take-out after that, while gatherings would be capped at nine people.
 
In explaining the possible tweaks, Sohn said many recent infections were happening in small groups and as a result of everyday contacts, which is why authorities and experts are now discussing ways to minimize those particular threats.
 
Among other measures in Level 3 revealed by the central government last month, schools will have to shut down, as will hagwon (private cram schools), movie theaters, gyms, wedding halls, internet cafes, arcades, study rooms, study cafes, amusement parks, hair salons and department stores.
 
The recent spread has been especially dire in the capital, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government said Thursday that a Covid-19 patient died last Tuesday while waiting to be assigned a hospital bed. He was diagnosed last weekend and had underlying conditions of diabetes and high blood pressure.
 
It was the first time a patient in Seoul died while waiting at home for a bed assignment.
 
The Seoul Metropolitan Government claimed the patient told officials he wasn’t feeling any symptoms, which is why the city didn't give him an I.C.U. bed.
 
In an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, however, the Dongdaemun Health Center, which monitored the patient, said he called the center on Monday morning to say he was coughing blood. The center said it reached out to the Seoul Metropolitan Government twice that day for the man to be given a bed, but he wasn't.
 
In regard to this, the Seoul Metropolitan Government told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday it “feels responsible” for the incident.
 
KDCA data indicates there are currently 242 Covid-19 patients either in severe or critical condition. Out of all patients who were diagnosed with the virus over the past week, 32 percent were aged 60 and over, 9.1 percentage points higher than the previous week. The older population is normally at a higher risk of complications from the disease.
 
BY LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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