Missing the blind spotsThe number of daily Covid-19 cases surpassed 4,000 on Wednesday for the first time. The spike was anticipated when the government declared the start of the first phase of returning to normal life on November 1. But the pace of the increase in cases is alarming. If the government wants to enter the second phase of returning to normalcy from mid-December as scheduled, it must bring the pace under control.
The remarkable surge in daily cases to 4,116 from about 2,000 cases last month primarily resulted from a drastic easing of tough social distancing rules. A bigger — and more fundamental — problem is the government’s failure to check many blind spots due to a lack of thorough preparation and prompt reaction.
Considering the hardships of the pandemic, it was unavoidable for the government to lift restrictions on operating hours of public facilities like restaurants and ease regulations on private gatherings. But it was not prepared for possible side effects of eased mitigation rules. The government may have popped the cork too early after the full vaccination rate reached 70 percent on October 23, which was faster than expected. On Sunday, when daily cases soared to more than 3,000, President Moon Jae-in had a live-broadcast town hall meeting with citizens and bragged about the success of the government’s measures. Was that really good timing?
Worse, the government failed to find enough hospital beds for critically ill patients and reduce the number of deaths. With 586 patients in critical condition as of Wednesday, 83 percent of all intensive care beds are occupied in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. According to the guidelines, the government is supposed to suspend its “With Corona” policy if the percentage exceeds 75 percent. And yet, the government does not disclose statistics on daily cases of critical illness despite medical experts’ urge to make the number public.
The government’s vaccine policy is also shaky. Instead of boasting of the 79-percent full vaccination rate, it must look deeper at the statistics. The older generation above 60 are fast losing immunity against the virus after receiving AstraZeneca shots early on. Only 7.5 percent of that age group got booster shots.
The government’s lax reaction can lead to the number of daily cases rising to 5,000 and above. A government committee announces today the results of discussions on whether to stop the return to normalcy. It must consider an expansion of the “vaccine pass” system and a limit on the number of people allowed in private gatherings if they are unvaccinated. The government must lay down reliable stepping stones for a return to normal life.