Covid has infected 20% of Korea's population
With Korea’s cumulative total of Covid-19 cases nearing 10 million, or 20 percent of the total population, expectations are rising that the pandemic has peaked, and cases will dwindle as in other parts of the world.
Korea on Tuesday reported 353,980 new Covid-19 cases, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), an increase of 144,811 from the previous day, but 8,358 fewer than a week ago.
“This kind of pattern has been repeated since last weekend,” Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
“The upward trend that was increasing a lot every week is no longer seen [...] which we believe is an indicator showing that the Omicron wave is at its peak,” he explained.
Korea's total caseload now comes to 9,936,540. Considering the number of infections is hovering around 300,000 daily, the country’s cumulative total is to cross the 10 million mark by the end of Tuesday.
Countries abroad that felt the Omicron wave earlier than Korea have seen cases decline after having more than 20 percent of their population infected with Covid-19. Twenty percent of the population of Korea is 10.32 million.
Authorities can't guarantee, however, that the Omicron wave will start to subside after Wednesday, when 20 percent of Korea’s population is infected.
In a press briefing on Monday, KDCA commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said 20 percent of the population is difficult to be viewed as an “absolute criteria” for picking up natural immunity.
“Different factors should be taken into account in combination such as the country’s percentage of tests conducted, natural immunity obtained from previous infections, and vaccinations,” Jeong said, adding, “it is difficult to predict the peak simply by the infection rate compared to the population."
Official Son said, “As the weekend effect [of fewer Covid-19 cases being reported on Saturday through Tuesday] disappears from Wednesday, we need to evaluate how much the increase is compared to the previous week.” Son was taking a step back from his optimistic outlook the previous day, when he said that a decline in cases was a “positive indicator.”
In addition, the Stealth Omicron, a subvariant of Omicron, is expected to affect the peak and subsequent decline of Korea’s record-breaking Omicron wave.
The new variant, which is 1.5 times more infectious than its predecessor, was responsible for 41.4 percent of coronavirus infections in Korea in the third week of March, increasing by 15 percentage points from the week before, according to the KDCA.
Stealth Omicron accounted for 10.3 percent of local transmissions in the fourth week of February, which has increased by four times over a month.
“The increasing share of [Stealth Omicron] as well as the change in the testing scheme of approving rapid antigen test results may delay the peak while expanding the wave’s size,” said the KDCA chief in a press briefing.
Infectious disease professor Kim Woo-joo at the Korea University Guro Hospital also forecasts that Stealth Omicron will likely affect the country’s wave.
“Just as the number of cases is increasing again in countries in Europe like Britain, France and Germany, Korea’s wave may grow bigger or its decline in cases may slow down,” he said.
“Countries abroad had a period between [the spread] of Omicron and Stealth Omicron, but in Korea, the spread of the two variants overlapped and affected the size of the virus wave,” said Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at the Gachon University College of Medicine.
BY SEO JI-EUN, LEE WOO-LIM AND EO HWAN-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]