Covid peak is over, says gov't, as rules to be relaxed
Health authorities will announce a post-Covid return to normalcy on Friday.
“We believe the [Omicron] wave has completely passed its peak,” said Ko Jae-young, spokesperson of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) in a press briefing Thursday. “Authorities and researchers predict that the current declining trend will continue for some time.”
According to the KDCA, the daily average of new infections reached 404,604 in the third week of March (from March 13 to 19) when the Omicron wave peaked, but fell to 218,490 in the third week of April (from April 3 to 9). The daily average of new cases for the most recent five days — from April 10 to 14 — was 161,996, 40 percent of the peak.
On Thursday, Korea reported 148,443 new Covid-19 cases, raising the total caseload to 15,979,061, KDCA data showed. Compared to last Thursday, infections decreased by 33.9 percent.
“It's time to prepare for a new way of living day-to-day and to shift to an efficient quarantine system while maintaining vigilance,” Ko noted.
Cases still hover above 100,000, and the emergence of a so-called “recombinant” variant and an increasing rate of infections among the elderly pose risks.
Health authorities raised concerns over an increase in the already-high number of severe cases among the elderly, as people 59 and over accounted for some 20 percent of recent total infections.
"The most important factors in responding to Covid-19 in the future is to minimize severe illness, death and health damage among high-risk groups," Ko said.
People over the age of 59 are now encouraged to get a fourth vaccine dose. Reservations for fourth shots will be open next Monday and appointment dates can be selected from April 25. So-called leftover vaccines were to be offered to them from Thursday.
The number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition dropped by 52 from the previous day to 962 as of Wednesday midnight, the first time in five weeks the number went below 1,000.
But the number of virus-related deaths increased on Thursday.
The country added 318 more deaths, rebounding above 300 after staying in the 100s and 200s for the past three days. By age, people 60 or older accounted for 303 deaths, or 95.2 percent of the total, while seven deaths were reported among people in their 50s and six in their 40s. Two deaths of children below the age of 10 were also recorded.
Given the recent downtrend of infections, the government is planning to unwind social distancing restrictions of the past two years.
According to multiple local media outlets, the government is considering completely lifting all limits imposed on private gatherings and business curfews and only maintaining an indoor mask mandate starting next week. The plan will be finalized and announced Friday morning.
As part of a return to normalcy, a special travel advisory that has been in effect since March 2020 and extended on a monthly basis was lifted completely Thursday.
With the number of student patients on a decline, the Ministry of Education is also preparing for a return to normalcy at schools.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye said in a video conference with the KDCA chief on Thursday said that her ministry is “preparing for a gradual return to normal in schools based on the operation of full in-person classes to continue in April and May.”
As of April 11, 98 percent of schools nationwide have fully reopened, according to the Education Ministry. The daily average of infections among students went down from around 58,000 in the first week of March to some 23,000 in the second week of April, showing an overall decline, it said.
The ministry noted the key to the full recovery to normalcy at schools is “to resume all school education activities, including field trips and hands-on activities,” and added that it is reviewing a revised school antivirus guideline to be applied after May.
Regarding recent protests from students and parents on measures that ban Covid-positive students from taking tests, Minister Yoo reaffirmed the policy, saying the issue should be addressed cautiously as it is a matter of “fairness and equity in students’ school records.”
Throughout the pandemic, students who were confirmed with Covid-19 were restricted from taking exams at schools, and instead were given a special score converted into a certain percentage depending on their past exam records and the average score of other pupils.
But with the prolonged pandemic and the government’s easing of distancing measures, some students and parents want an end to the ban ahead of upcoming midterm exams.
“With the current antivirus guidelines for isolation of Covid-19 patients unchanged, if students are allowed to take spring semester midterm exam in-person, problems of equity will be raised with high school students who have already received special scores over the past two years,” explained Yoo.
She added, “Once the mandatory quarantine for confirmed patients is abolished, we will give chances for infected students to take tests in-person for the finals of the spring semester this year at the earliest.”
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]