Covid cases remain high, peak expected soon
Korea reported more than 240,000 new Covid-19 infections Sunday with a peak expected in the coming days.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country added 243,628 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, down 10,699 from the previous day, bringing the total caseload to 4,456,264.
Cases on weekends tend to decrease due to fewer tests being conducted, but Sunday’s tally was above 240,000 for the third consecutive day amid the fast spread of the Omicron variant.
Sunday’s figure was a 48.9 percent increase from last Sunday's 163,561 cases and a 132.4 percent increase from the 104,825 cases on Sunday Feb. 20.
Health authorities had warned of up to 350,000 daily cases around mid-March based on the predictions made by research institutes.
Virus-related fatalities and critically cases also soared.
One hundred and sixty-one more people died of the virus on Saturday, the third-largest death toll for a single day. The record for fatalities, 216, was set the day before.
The number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition stood at 885, nearly reaching 900 for two days in a row. Authorities believe critically ill patients will rise between 1,700 to 2,750 in mid- to late-March.
Despite the worsening wave, the government eased social distancing measures Saturday, allowing restaurants, bars and cafes to stay open until 11 p.m. The relaxed rules came just two weeks after it extended the curfew by an hour from 9 to 10 p.m.
In a Covid-19 response meeting Friday, Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said it was necessary to relax the rules to help owners of small businesses, emphasizing that the dominant Omicron variant doesn’t have a high fatality rate.
The revised measures are effective for two weeks until March 20.
But the extended curfew is likely to fuel the spread of the virus along with the reopening of schools on March 2 and voting in the presidential election on March 9.
Of Sunday’s new Covid-19 patients, 23.1 percent were aged under 19. In Seoul alone, more than 6,000 students in elementary, middle, and high schools were newly infected on both March 3 and 4. As of Thursday midnight, 18,071 students and 2,297 faculty members were banned from coming to school and were receiving treatment for Covid-19.
In addition, the virus is expected to spread as people go to vote, which includes Covid-19 patients.
In the past two days of early voting, there were complaints that the distancing rules and separation of routes between virus patients and other voters weren’t complied with at voting sites.
The percentage of cases of the new Stealth subvariant of Omicron, which is known to be 1.5 times more transmissible than the original Omicron strain, is also rising.
Health authorities said Friday that the Stealth Omicron accounted for 10.3 percent of cases in the fourth week of February compared to one percent in the first week.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]