The pandemic is not over until it’s over

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The pandemic is not over until it’s over

With a record 342,446 Covid-19 infections reported on Wednesday, the total number of people who tested positive for the coronavirus has exceeded 5.2 million — more than 10 percent of our population. The problem is we have not yet reached a peak. Medical professionals expect the number to fluctuate between 250,000 and 350,000 daily for up to two weeks. If critically-ill patients soar, the daily death toll could shoot up to 500. The time has come for the government to come up with emergency measures to lessen the deaths.

The dramatic surge in infections was anticipated after the government eased quarantine rules ahead of the March 9 presidential election. In fact, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters led by the prime minister lifted requirements for vaccine passes at restaurants and cafes on March 1. People don’t have to register their visits to hospitals for the elderly anymore. Medical experts expressed concerns about those decisions by the public health authorities.

The government extended operating hours of restaurants and cafes to 10 p.m. from 9 p.m. from February 19, followed by another extension to 11 p.m. from last Saturday, the second day of the two-day early voting period. We understand the government’s concern for mom-and-pop store owners who have complained about the effect of the restrictions on their business hours over the past two years. But medical experts advised the government ease such regulations gradually after considering hospitals’ abilities to deal with patients, including the availability of ICU beds. But their request was rejected by the health authorities.

As voters infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 used the same space as the uninfected in many polling stations, the number of positive cases is expected to sharply rise soon. If that happens, authorities involved — the National Election Commission (NEC), the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety — must take responsibility. The authorities must thoroughly prepare for the upcoming resumption of in-person classes at elementary, middle and high schools across the country.

Nearly 10,000 people have died from the coronavirus since February 2020. Though the fatality rate of the Omicron variant (0.09 percent) is lower than that of the Delta variant (1.44 percent), it is still higher than for the seasonal flu (0.05 percent to 0.1 percent). The health authorities must double-check our medical system so that more than 1.2 million people currently under home treatment can receive proper medical service, and ensure enough ICU beds for the critically-ill.
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