Covid deaths, critical cases hit new highs

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Covid deaths, critical cases hit new highs

Medical workers wearing protective gear move a coronavirus patient from an ambulance at Seoul Medical Center in Jungnang District, eastern Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Medical workers wearing protective gear move a coronavirus patient from an ambulance at Seoul Medical Center in Jungnang District, eastern Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

 
Fatalities and critical cases of Covid-19 hit new record highs Tuesday, and the government hinted it may strengthen public health measures this week.
 
Korea reported 5,567 new cases of Covid-19 Tuesday, with all but 42 locally transmitted, bringing the total caseload to 528,652, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
 
Cases on Mondays and Tuesdays tend to remain relatively low due to fewer tests conducted on weekends.
 
However, 94 more people died of the virus, which was the highest number of daily fatalities since the country saw its first Covid-19 case on Jan. 20, 2020. Tuesday’s figure broke the previous record of 80 set last Saturday.
 
Since the country started its “Living with Covid” policies on Nov. 1, Korea has recorded a total of 1,538 deaths, accounting for 35.1 percent of the total pandemic death toll of 4,387. This means that more than one in three Covid-19 fatalities occurred over the past six weeks of eased virus curbs.
 
On Nov. 4, the country reported 24 single-day Covid-19 deaths, and that figure rose to 32 on Nov. 13, 52 on Nov. 27, 70 on Dec. 4, 80 on Dec. 11 and 94 Tuesday.
 
Even worse, the number of critical Covid-19 cases surpassed the 900-mark for the first time since the pandemic began, which is highly likely to lead to an increase in deaths.
 
Covid-19 patients in critical condition — referring to those who require oxygen treatment (such as high-flow oxygen therapy), mechanical ventilation (being put on a respirator), extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) or continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) — hit an all-time high of 906 as of Monday midnight, rising by 30 from the previous day.
 
Of them, 767 people, or 84.7 percent, were in their 60s or older, who are considered high-risk for Covid-19.
 
“The infection rate of people in their 60s or older is continuing to rise steeply, and they are making up around 35 percent of all infections,” the KDCA said. “Following the increase in new infections, we believe the number of critical cases and fatalities will also rise.”
 
Park Hyang, head of the Central Disaster Management Headquarters of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said, “If intensive care patients surpass 1,000, it might affect other general medical services as we need to earmark additional I.C.U. beds.” She warned of a situation in which ICU patients cannot be allocated ICU bed but will have wait in other types of beds for severe-to-moderate patients.
 
To stem the recent surge of Covid-19, from Monday, Korea started requiring vaccine passes or a negative PCR test conducted within 48 hours of people entering 16 types of facilities including restaurants and cafes.
 
But the expanded vaccine pass system got off to a poor start Monday, crashing around lunchtime because too many people were using it. More servers were added, but the system crashed again on Tuesday due to heavy use. Following the glitches, the country decided to waive penalties against customers and business owners who violated the policy on Monday and Tuesday.
 
The start of the government’s "visiting vaccination services at schools", a project to get more adolescents inoculated, was postponed from Monday to Wednesday.
 
That program was delayed to next week in Seoul, due to low participation among students.
 
“Schools [in Seoul] have to contact the public health center in their district and decide on the inoculation method and the plan,” an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said. “It won’t be able to start until next week.”
 
According to the Education Office, 1,154 schools in Seoul, or 88 percent, have applied for the service, but 952 of them had only one to 10 students asking to be vaccinated at their school. There were two schools which had more than 50 students.
 
Amid the glitches and worsening pandemic, the government warned of taking "extraordinary measures" against Covid-19 after observing the virus trends over the next few days.
 
“The appropriate measures [for the current situation] are already ready,” Park Soo-hyun, senior Blue House secretary for public communication, said in a radio interview on Tuesday, adding, “but the card will be selected according to the situation at that time. We should watch Wednesday’s and Thursday’s situation.”
 
It is likely that the authorities will announce extra public health measures on Friday.
 
The government is reportedly considering limiting social gatherings to four people in the greater Seoul area from the current six, and forcing businesses to close at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. — similar to the Level 4 measures under the previous social distancing scheme.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]
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