Millionth Covid-19 case reported as daily number hits record
One million Covid-19 cases have been recorded in Korea as of Sunday, the grim milestone passed about two years after the start of the pandemic.
That day, 38,691 new infections were detected, a daily record, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
While weekend readings are normally lower than average, new highs were recorded both on Saturday and Sunday.
The increase has been exponential since the highly transmissible Omicron variant entered the country and became the most dominant strain of the coronavirus in Korea.
Daily totals broke 10,000 for the first time on Jan. 26, 20,000 on Feb. 2 and 30,000 on Feb. 5.
The cumulative total passed one million 748 days after the first case was recorded in the country. It passed 500,000 on Dec. 10 last year, 609 days after the first case. Another 500,000 were added in the two months since.
Daily case numbers are forecast to break 100,000 in the next month as many people travelled and met with others during the Lunar New Year holiday from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2.
"I believe it can increase to over 100,000," Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University College of Medicine, said in an MBC radio interview last Thursday while discussing daily case numbers.
"It depends on the prediction model, but I think it can take up to four to eight weeks to reach the peak in the future," he added. "During this period, the high trend of increasing new infections will be maintained."
Professor Eom Joong-sik from the infectious disease department at Gachon University Gil Medical Center predicts the peak could arrive even earlier.
"Given a reproduction rate of 1.54 and the current distancing measures kept, 100,000 daily cases could occur within three or four weeks at the longest," Eom said in a CBS radio interview last Thursday. "The number of confirmed cases will exceed 100,000 between the end of February and early March."
The Covid-19 test positivity rate stood at 20.8 percent as of Saturday midnight, up by 2.1 percentage points from the day before. This means one out of five tested were confirmed as infected. The country's switch to an Omicron-tailored system that reserves free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for people over 60 or in high-risk groups is believed to have contributed to the high positivity rate.
Omicron is more transmissible but cases are far less severe than those resulting from the Delta variant.
As of midnight Saturday, 272 patients were categorized as in critical condition, the ninth day in a row in which that number was above 200. Fifteen deaths were recorded, bringing the death toll to 6,873.
Among the new Covid-19 fatalities was the first reported death of a teenager, who died of pulmonary embolism caused by the virus.
Health authorities confirmed that a 17-year-old high school student in Gwangju died four days after being released from quarantine, after receiving home treatment for a week. All Covid-19 patients in Korea treat at home except for a few exceptions, such as people who live in an environment vulnerable to infection, or children, the elderly and the disabled who need a caregiver.
The country previously reported three Covid-19 deaths of children under the age of 10, but this is the first time that a death was reported in the 10-to-19 age group.
In an effort to limit the virus spread, the government extended the current social distancing scheme — limiting gatherings to six people and requiring restaurants and cafes to close at 9 p.m. — for another two weeks, through Feb. 20. Other businesses and facilities considered to be less at risk, such as movie theaters, concert halls, internet cafes and hagwon (cram schools), will have a 10 p.m. curfew.
"In a situation where it is difficult to estimate the effect of the Lunar New Year holiday, and we are breaking records day by day, we decided that it is a priority to slow down the spread of Omicron," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a Covid-19 response meeting last Friday.
"Even if the number of confirmed cases increases, if the critical cases and fatality rates remain stable and the medical system has the capacity, we will review switching to a management similar to that for the seasonal flu," Lee Ki-il, a senior health official with the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, said in a press briefing.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]