One in two people tested are positive, virus data shows
One in two people being tested for Covid-19 in Korea are positive, the country's virus data showed Thursday, as the country once again reached a record high in deaths.
The country reported 198,803 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, raising the total caseload to 3,691,488, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The positivity rate among those testing positive was 51.3 percent, the agency said, meaning slightly over half of the people taking PCR tests have Covid.
In addition, 128 more people died of the virus over the past 24 hours, being the highest death toll reported in a single day since the pandemic started.
Amid a record-breaking Omicron surge, Korea is allowing Covid-19 patients to vote in the presidential election.
The KDCA reiterated Thursday that it will allow Covid-19 patients and people in quarantine to leave their houses to cast votes in the country’s 20th presidential election.
Currently, people diagnosed with Covid-19, travelers from abroad and close contacts of patients within nursing facilities are subject to seven-day quarantines.
During the general elections on April 15 last year — the first election to be held during the pandemic — Covid patients were only allowed to vote at special early-voting stations in their residential treatment center, or by mail. This time, they are eligible for both early and regular voting.
To guarantee their right to vote, the country revised the Public Official Election Act on Feb. 16 to allow infectious disease patients in quarantine to participate in the election. It also revised the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act enforcement ordinance on Feb. 24, providing related grounds and procedures.
According to the revised law, people with the virus or in quarantine will be able to vote during a specific time slot at a separately installed voting booth. On Saturday, the last day of early voting, they can leave their houses anytime after 5 p.m. but must arrive at the polling station before 6 p.m. On March 9, election day, these voters are to arrive and cast their ballots only between 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., after regular voting closes.
To minimize contact with others, they are prohibited from using public transportation and must travel by foot, car, or by special quarantine transportation services, and must return home immediately after voting.
Other electors can vote from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the election period, unchanged from before. However, if they have a fever (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or above) or show respiratory symptoms after being checked at the entrance of the polling station, they will be asked to vote at the isolated booth.
Despite providing preventive measures, the authorization allowing patients and quarantining individuals to vote raised concerns that it could trigger more infections as the country continues to grapple with its worst pandemic wave.
The Omicron peak was projected to arrive in early to mid-March, with new cases potentially reaching between 180,000 to 350,000.
Health authorities made a prediction based on domestic and foreign analyses that the daily tally would top 230,000 around March 9, but there is high possibility that tally will far exceed that, given the current surge.
Considering the numbers of existing and new confirmed cases, at least 1 million people will be allowed to vote at 3,552 early-voting stations and 14,464 main polling stations across the country. As of Wednesday midnight, 857,132 people were in quarantine at home and receiving Covid-19 treatment.
Still, authorities believe that there will be few cases of infection at polling stations so long as the sanitary measures are followed.
"In the 2020 general elections, which were held for the first time in the pandemic, there were no cases of infection despite the turnout recording 66.2 percent,” the National Election Commission said.
"Based on this experience, we are preparing thorough preventive measures to create an environment where voters can vote without concerns [of getting infected].”
But concerns remain as there is no means to monitor Covid-19 patients who abscond.
"Allowing patients to go out is based on complete trust with the public," said Park Hyang, director of antivirus measures at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, stressing that it is an area of individual conscience.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]