Variants and vacations cause more virus worries
Korean health authorities warned that daily new cases may hover above 500 as more people are expected to travel with the warmer spring season and more transmissible variants continue to spread.
As of Sunday midnight, Korea reported 473 new daily cases, falling back below 500 after six days. However, fewer tests are conducted over the weekend.
Local infections accounted for 449 of the cases, and Korea's total cases reached 105,752, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The country added four more fatalities, raising the total death toll to 1,748.
The nation's daily virus tally has been on the rise, as the average number of daily new cases for last week, from March 28 to April 3, stood at 477 — 55 more cases, or a 13 percent increase, from the previous week.
Moreover, the reproduction rate, or the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus to, has grown above 1 in all Korean regions. This indicates that the average Covid-19 patient will infect more than one person, continuously increasing the number of cases in the country.
"The virus reproduction rate evaluated last week was 1.07,” KDCA commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said at a regular briefing on Monday. “Because the rate exceeded 1, we are expecting [the number of daily cases] to increase from the current 500s.”
Compared to the early days of the pandemic when mass infections occurred on a large scale, now silent transmissions are breaking out in everyday spaces, making it difficult to find a place safe from Covid-19.
Virus variants, which are known to be more easily transmissible than the original Covid-19 coronavirus, are also a cause of concern.
Korea reported 41 more new cases of Covid-19 variants, including 22 local infections and 19 imported infections, raising the total number of the three types of variant cases confirmed to 330, since the first case last October.
In particular, it is the first time that authorities have recorded a local transmission of the South African variant, which may be more resistant against the current vaccines — adding to woes over the possible spread throughout the community.
Virus cases increased worldwide due to virus variants, and Europe hit a third wave triggered by the spread of the virus strain from Britain.
Health authorities warned that social distancing levels may be raised if the spread is not slowed down.
Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, said during a briefing on Monday that the authorities will announce adjustments for the social distancing guidelines on Friday.
Moreover, the government stressed a zero-tolerance principle for businesses and customers caught violating the "basic preventative rules."
"The government has no other choice but to apply a zero-tolerance principle over such behaviors, while taking coronavirus control and prevention measures more thoroughly," President Moon Jae-in said in a weekly meeting of top aides.
A crackdown began on Monday following a week of guidance period, and both owners and customers will be fined if they violate basic quarantine rules.
All customers must write their information in the entry log, instead of one person writing their information and adding “with two others.” In particular, entertainment facilities must use a digital registration system, as serial infections continue from hostess bars.
In addition, people as of Monday are banned from eating in all public facilities other than restaurants and cafes.
The government plans to suspend business facilities that violate quarantine rules for 10 days without a warning, as soon as the revision of the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act is completed on April 16.
When the new rules go into effect, a first violation will result in a 10-day suspension, followed by 20 days, three months and finally a full shutdown.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]