621,328 cases reported after data glitch, testing changes
Korea reported a dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases on Thursday — over 600,000 infections — but authorities said it was due to a data glitch and the widened use of rapid antigen testing.
The country reported 621,328 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, raising the total caseload to 8,250,592. Health authorities said about 70,000 infections from Tuesday were included in Thursday's figures due to delays in data processing.
This brings Thursday’s actual estimated tally to around 550,000, while inflating Wednesday’s 400,741 cases to around 470,000.
Health authorities pointed to the recent change in the Covid-19 testing scheme — approving positive results from special rapid antigen tests performed by medical professionals — as the reason for the data glitch. It also is believed to account for at least part of the dramatic surge in reported cases.
“Following the new rapid antigen testing scheme, we prepared a reporting system in a short period of time [...] but couldn’t solve all related problems, resulting in a delay in aggregating [Covid-19 data],” Lee Sang-won, head of the epidemiological investigations team at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Previously, Korea only counted the results from standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which were conducted at a limited number of public health centers, like district or gu offices.
But with the country’s PCR-testing capacity reaching its limit due to a surge in new infections, from Monday Korea changed its system to include people who test positive from rapid antigen tests performed by medical professionals. This opened up testing centers to some 7,500 local hospitals and clinics across the country, with many people flocking to nearby clinics in their neighborhood to get Covid-19 tests.
But some patients were excluded from the count as the medical institutions that reported the confirmed cases had unclear addresses, causing an error in calculation, health officials said.
Still, Thursday’s cases far surpassed Wednesday’s previous high of over 400,000 daily cases and was way above the government's own prediction made on March 9 for a peak of 372,000 cases to be reached between March 16 and 22.
“The approval of positive results from rapid antigen tests for Covid-19 diagnosis uncovered hidden infections and the inclusion of Wednesday's omitted cases led to an increase in Thursday's number of infections,” said Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters.
Korea also recorded its highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began.
There were 429 new Covid-19 deaths reported Thursday, which was nearly three times the previous day’s 164 fatalities.
By age, 401 people, or 93 percent of Thursday’s reported fatalities, were in their 60s or older. The rest included 19 people in their 50s, seven in their 40s and two in their 20s.
Yet authorities said 233 were people who died more than three days ago, as the surge in Covid-19 infections and fatalities also delayed reporting of the deaths.
“When there are many patients in the hospital and the workload [of medical staff] is heavy, the registration inevitably gets delayed,” said Lee.
Lee added, “Although the actual death count is lower, it is likely to continue to increase.”
With more deaths added, the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in critical condition went slightly down by 85 from the day before, totaling 1,159 as of Wednesday midnight. Of them, 978 patients, or 84 percent were aged 60 or older.
A government-private sector committee on the return to normalcy, which functions as the government’s policy advisory board, is reportedly suggesting expanding the social cap to eight and extending the business curfew to midnight.
The government will announce any changes Friday.
Meanwhile, the Seoul metropolitan government on Thursday urgently proposed a 1.1 trillion won ($897.3 million) supplementary budget bill, in addition to its main budget of a record high 44 trillion won, to deal with the Omicron wave.
The bill includes financial assistance of 1 million won each for some 80,000 struggling small businesses. It will also be used for financial aid for hospitalized or quarantined Covid-19 patients, home treatment monitoring centers, and free distribution of home test kits to the vulnerable.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]