Infections spike to almost 50,000
Daily Covid-19 infections shot up to an all-time high of nearly 50,000 cases on Wednesday.
The country reported 49,567 new Covid-19 cases Wednesday, rising by 12,848 or 34.9 percent from the previous day. All but 165 cases were locally transmitted. The country’s total caseload stood at 1,131,239, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The number of new cases in Korea is now doubling every week.
Wednesday’s figure was 2.4 times larger than 20,268 cases on Feb. 2, a week ago, and 3.8 times larger the 13,008 cases on Jan. 26, two weeks ago.
Nearly 30,000 new cases were registered in the greater capital area, including 13,641 in Gyeonggi, 11,630 in Seoul and 3,912 in Incheon. Seoul’s new patients doubled from the previous day and exceeded 10,000 for the first time on Wednesday.
The number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition is also showing signs of gradually increasing, putting health authorities on alert.
Critical cases rose by 17 from the previous day and stood at 285 as of Tuesday midnight. The number was 257 on Feb. 4, and has been slowly rising since then.
Twenty-one more people died of the virus, raising the death toll to 6,943.
With asymptomatic and mild cases rising fast, patients who were treated at home across Korea rose by 8,851 from the previous day to a total of 168,020 as of Tuesday midnight. This is already 76.1 percent of the country’s monitoring capacity, which is 183,000 monitored by 601 medical institutions nationwide.
Since Feb. 3, health authorities have been offering the free and highly accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests only to people at higher infection risk, such as cohabitants of a virus patient or people aged 60 and older. All others are offered free rapid antigen tests at Covid-19 screening centers at public health centers, which they can take on the spot or bring home for testing later. Alternatively, they can go to a local respiratory clinic designated for a rapid antigen test, but that will cost 5,000 won ($4).
If someone tests positive on the rapid antigen test, they can then get a PCR test at the public health center.
From Thursday, the authorities are putting a halt to monitoring low-risk people who are under home treatment, and ending the distribution of home treatment kits.
“[People not under strict monitoring] can first get phone counseling from nearby designated respiratory clinics or local clinics they usually go to,” explained Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters. “In addition, each local government will operate a 24-hour home treatment medical counseling center through which people can receive counseling.
“People can use their own fever reducer or a thermometer to observe a rapid rise in body temperature [at home],” Son added. “But in case of respiratory symptoms, they are advised to contact the medical institution immediately for phone consultation.”
The government plans to have up to 112 outpatient care centers across the country for face-to-face treatment of Covid patients.
The surge in new infections coupled with the government’s transition into a new treatment strategy are prompting a rush for testing kits — reminiscent of the hoarding of face masks in Korea in 2020, which forced the government to limit the number of masks that could be purchased.
According to convenience store industry sources, sales of test kits skyrocketed after Jan. 26, when the country’s daily tally broke the 10,000 mark.
Sales at CU, GS25 and E-mart24 from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2 rose by 12 times compared to same period the month before. At Seven Eleven, they rose by nine times.
The government hinted at wider distribution of free test kits to people under 60 who want to take a Covid-19 test.
“People aged 60 or older can get PCR tests immediately as before and thus have no problem in getting tested, but people under that age have to visit public health centers or local hospitals that conduct rapid antigen tests,” said Son in a MBC radio interview on Wednesday, “regarding this, we are considering providing test kits for free [to these people].”
Another major change in Korea’s pandemic strategy is simplified contact tracing. From Monday, the government introduced a new method in which Covid-19 patients directly submit relevant information, such as people they have been in contact with, in an online survey.
In addition to this, the government is looking into whether to maintain the digital check-in system based on QR codes or calling a designated number. which was used across the country to help contact tracing efforts.
While the quarantine period for all Covid-19 patients was unified to seven days from the date of testing starting Wednesday, the quarantine procedure for international arrivals is unchanged.
Currently, all overseas arrivals must submit a negative PCR test result conducted within 48 hours of their dates of departure, and go into seven days of isolation after arriving.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]