Infections fall below 100,000 for first time since Feb. 22
Korea’s daily Covid-19 cases fell below 100,000 for the first time in seven weeks Monday.
The country reported 90,928 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, raising the total caseload to 15,424,598, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
This was the first time in 48 days the daily tally went below the 100,000-mark. The last time was Feb. 22’s 99,562 cases.
Aside from the weekend effect — cases tend to decrease on Mondays as fewer tests are conducted over the weekend — Korea is seeing a gradual decline in its cases. Monday’s figure was down 28.4 percent from last Monday, and 51.4 percent from two Mondays ago.
The government said the fall in cases was faster than predicted.
“The daily tally seems to be going to the lowest point among the predicted range of [infections],” Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, told reporters on Monday.
According to a report by the Covid-19 mathematical modeling task force published on April 6, a majority of domestic university research teams forecast the number of infections to reach 160,000 to 250,000 as of this Wednesday.
Fatalities and critical cases, however, are still high.
The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in critical condition, which has hovered around the 1,100-mark in recent days, totaled 1,099 as of Sunday midnight, while 258 more people died of the virus.
“The number of critically ill patients has been decreasing since hitting a record high of 1,315 on March 31, while deaths also peaked at a weekly average of 359 [from March 20 to 26] and continue to fall,” Son explained. He added that medical capacity is stable as the occupancy rate of I.C.U. beds remains in the 60 percent range.
Given the subsiding of Korea’s fourth Covid-19 wave, the government is gearing up for a return to normalcy.
Current social distancing measures — including private gatherings capped at 10 people and a business curfew set at midnight — are scheduled to end Sunday. A new distancing scheme will be announced this Friday.
"Discussions are under way on the overall social distancing scheme, including the lifting of the mask mandate," Son said. Authorities had promised that once infections were at a stable level, it may lift social distancing restrictions, except for indoor mask rules.
"We are also reviewing a comprehensive measure related to the post-Omicron strategy,” Son added. The government’s post-Omicron strategy is expected to downgrade the infectious disease level of Covid-19, which is currently classified as a Class 1 disease — the highest and most dangerous level — to Class 2, the same as tuberculosis, chickenpox and measles.
From Monday, free rapid antigen testing at Covid-19 screening centers at public health centers and gu (district) offices was stopped.
Instead, people with suspected symptoms of Covid-19 can go to designated respiratory clinics in their neighborhood for a rapid antigen test for a fee of around 5,000 won ($4). However, priority groups for Covid-19 testing, such as people 60 or older or close contacts of Covid-19 patients, can still get PCR tests at public health centers.
Also from Monday, foreigners living in Korea who caught Covid-19 here will no longer have to submit a negative PCR test when they return from a trip abroad, although only if they travel within a few weeks of their illness.
Long-term foreign residents will have to submit a notice of isolation from when they were sick to be exempted. The date of the Covid-19 infection on the isolation notice must be within 10 to 40 days of the departure date.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Monday that eight medical counselors will be available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays to answer questions about vaccination side effects and compensation. The counseling hotline will operate until the end of this year.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]