Muddling through againNearly all Covid-19 indicators are ringing alarms. The number of deaths (56) and critically ill patients (647) on Sunday hit new records. After more than 85 percent of hospitals designated for Covid-19 treatment in the capital region were fully occupied, over 1,000 patients have been desperately waiting for hospital beds for three consecutive days. Yesterday’s 3,928 daily cases is the largest number for a Sunday.
Worse, the breakout of the Omicron variant rings louder alarms than the Delta variant because it seems far more cantagious. After it was first reported in Africa, on November 11, the Omicron variant infected a person in Hong Kong two weeks later. Korea is not a safe zone. Given the rapid transmission of the Delta variant from India in December, our public health authorities must respond quickly.
Despite such urgency at home and abroad, the government’s reaction is overly lax. It banned the entry of foreigners from eight African countries, including South Africa, on Sunday, but Hong Kong has been excluded. The government must preemptively expand its ban on the entry of foreigners if necessary. The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters was supposed to announce new guidelines on Friday following an advisory committee’s meeting on returning to normal life the previous day, but it suddenly delayed its announcement. It seems to be muddling along once again after the outbreak of the new variant.
The massive rallies by the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and other civic groups over the weekend could be a turning point in the proliferation of Covid-19. And yet, the government didn’t do anything.
In a discussion on Thursday on returning to normalcy, medical experts reportedly proposed the introduction of a vaccine pass system even for young people and reinforcement of restrictions on private gatherings. But they stopped short of debating on whether to enforce an emergency plan for the capital area. The government seems to dilly-dally on toughening regulations for fear of a strong backlash from mom-and-pop store owners and the self-employed after it started its “Living with Corona” policy.
The government must watch closely what Japan did. After inoculating its people with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the start, Japan has reduced daily cases to about 100 from 30,000, whereas Koreans received AstraZeneca and Janssen shots from the beginning despite concerns about their efficacy. The government must analyze the Covid-19 vaccines thoroughly and hurry to vaccinate the people with booster shots to prevent breakthrough cases before it’s too late.