70% of Korea vaccinated, key threshold crossed
Over 70 percent of Korea is vaccinated against Covid-19, the inoculation campaign crossing a key threshold that should lead to a return to normal in early November.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), more than 36 million of the country’s 52 million people have completed vaccinations at 2 p.m. Saturday. As of Saturday midnight, 70.1 percent of the population was fully inoculated, while 79.4 percent had received one dose, the agency said.
“Korea’s fully-vaccinated rate exceeded 70 percent yesterday,” Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said in a Covid-19 response meeting on Sunday, adding, “the vaccination pace is the third fastest among OECD countries.”
Out of 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Iceland achieved the 70 percent milestone in 199 days, Portugal in 236 days and Korea in 240 days.
Jeon added that recent Covid-19 daily new case numbers have decreased to the levels of the early days of the fourth wave, when the daily totals were around 1,000.
“The average daily number of Covid-19 cases over the past week [from Oct. 18 to 24] was 1,357, which has been on the decline for three consecutive weeks since the fifth week of September, falling to the level of the early days of the fourth wave [from July 11 to 17],” he said.
On Sunday, the country added 1,423 new Covid-19 cases, including 1,395 local infections, raising the total caseload to 351,899. Twenty-one more deaths were added, bringing the death toll to 2,766.
The government has said at least 70 percent of the general public, or 80 percent of adults and 90 percent of the elderly, must be fully vaccinated before adopting a new set of rules under the “With Corona" policy, much like “living with Covid” measures elsewhere. The country is to treat the coronavirus as an infectious respiratory disease like seasonal influenza — gradually easing the current social-distancing measures and focusing more on managing critically ill patients rather than all new infections.
Seoul said Sunday that it will normalize nighttime bus and subway operations from Monday ahead of the “With Corona” initiative. Seoul’s buses and subways runs were reduced by up to 20 percent after 10 p.m. on weekdays from July 9 to contain the spread of the virus.
While the authorities are pushing for an expansion of Covid-19 home treatment to reduce stress on the medical system, a need to review on the system has emerged as a Covid patient treated at home died while being transferred to hospital.
Home treatment in Korea is available for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic individuals under the age of 70 who tested positive but don't need hospitalization. If a home-care patient’s symptoms worsen, they can have remote consultations and prescriptions from a doctor, or be transported to a medical facility in case of emergency. As of Oct. 22, 2,280 Covid-19 patients are being treated at home, including 2,176 in the greater Seoul area and 104 in other parts of the country.
According to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters and Seoul’s Seodaemun District Office, a 68-year-old Covid-19 patient who was being treated at home died of cardiac arrest while being transferred to a hospital last Friday. It marked the first fatality since the country rolled out at-home treatment in January.
The man, who tested positive last Thursday, did not have any Covid-19 symptoms or underlying diseases, and thus opted to receive treatment at home. According to health authorities, the man wasn’t vaccinated, and had symptoms such as shortness of breath seven days before getting tested, but was asymptomatic at the time of the epidemiological investigation.
His condition suddenly deteriorated the next day and his family called 119 at 6:51 a.m., but it was found that his personal information wasn’t shared among the health authorities, resulting in delays in the assignment to an available hospital.
Generally, when a patient chooses to receive treatment at home, a hospital is designated in case of emergency. When the emergency relief personnel first arrived at 7:05 a.m., they thought he was in quarantine and not a home-treated patient — and delayed in assigning him to an available hospital bed while observing his condition.
It was also found that there was a delay in dispatching a Covid-19 ambulance as it wasn’t prepared.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters, negative pressure ambulances for Covid-19 patients are required to wrap the inside with special film to prevent contamination, but the ambulance couldn’t be dispatched immediately as this wasn’t done. The wrapping process takes about 20 minutes.
A Covid-19 ambulance arrived at 7:30 a.m. and tried to transfer the patient, but he was already going into cardiac arrest and was taken to the hospital 20 minutes later after undergoing CPR. He arrived at the hospital at 8:05 a.m. but died.
Experts pointed out the classification of home-treated patient should be reorganized.
“Although Covid-19 symptoms may seem normal on the outside, it is difficult to predict the clinical progress as CT scans show lung injuries,” said Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital.
“Only vaccinated people under the age of 50 are treated at home for Covid overseas,” Kim added. “If the patient is 68 years old, he should have been transferred to a Covid-19 hospital as soon as possible even if he wanted [home treatment], considering his previous symptoms.”
“In the case of older patients, symptoms progress slowly and they are classified as asymptomatic, which appears to be why the man died within a day [after testing positive],” Chun Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital, said at an expert forum on “With Corona” last Friday.
Regarding the case, health authorities said they will review the classification, monitoring and transfer system of home treatment once again along with the fire department and city and provincial offices across the country.
BY SEO JI-EUN, HWANG SU-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]