Covid cases are starting to plateau
Although the Covid-19 pandemic is waning, new cases seem to be plateauing and even rising from day to day.
There were 20,601 new confirmed cases Monday, an increase of 525 from last Monday. This is the first Monday in eight weeks that the number of new cases increased compared to the previous week. On Sunday, the number of confirmed cases increased by more than 2,000 compared to the previous Sunday.
“The decrease of confirmed cases is showing signs of slowing down,” said Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters. “It remains to be seen whether this slowing down will continue. It is reasonable to think the numbers will remain at a stagnant level after reaching a threshold rather than the pandemic completely ending.”
The emergence of a variant has the potential to be a catalyst for a resurgence. The BA.2.12.1 variant introduced to Korea from the United States last week has a 23 to 27 percent stronger transmissibility than the existing BA.2 variant.
The U.S., which passed the peak of the epidemic earlier than Korea, is at a risk of a resurgence due to this new variant. In March, the pandemic went into a stable slump with 30,000 to 40,000 confirmed cases daily. But in May, more than 70,000 confirmed cases emerged as the BA.2.12.1 variant spread. The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, made it compulsory to wear a mask indoors again on April 18. New York City is considering a plan to revive quarantine restrictions, such as wearing a mask indoors and mandatory vaccines.
The incoming Yoon government will decide whether to maintain or abolish major quarantine policies after May 10. With the decline of the pandemic slowing and the threat of variants growing, the Yoon government’s policies might have to get stricter.
Previously, the presidential transition team defined the outgoing Moon Jae-in government’s quarantine policies as “political quarantine -- meaning that the administration used some policies for political advantage, such as banning gatherings of more than 10 people in order to prevent protests -- and declared that the new government would differentiate its policies by basing them on scientific evidence. In particular, the transition team emphasized that the new government would thoroughly prepare for variants and the resurgence of the virus during the autumn to winter months.
First, Yoon's new government has to decide whether to remove the 7-day quarantine obligation for confirmed patients by May 22. On April 25, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters lowered the infectious disease level of Covid-19 to Class 2 and set a transition period of four weeks.
The biggest change from the downgrade to Class 2 is that quarantines for confirmed patients are no longer required. As quarantines become a recommendation rather than a requirement, government support for confirmed patients such as coverage of living expenses and medical expenses will end or be reduced.
Yoon’s transition team previously stated that lifting the quarantine obligation would be a “very hasty approach.”
“The next government will lift the quarantine obligation when it is deemed possible after thorough review,” said Shin Yong-hyeon, spokesperson for the transition team, at a briefing on April 20.
The system that recognizes a positive rapid antigen test as a confirmed case is also ending Friday. As the prevalence of Omicron stabilizes, the accuracy of the rapid antigen test may also decrease. Therefore, it is up to the incoming government to decide whether to maintain the current system.
The incoming government will also consider lifting the full outdoor mask rule in May. Although the rule to wear a mask outdoors was lifted last week, it is still required to wear a mask at rallies, performances, and sports events attended by more than 50 people. The transition team announced that it would review the “outdoor mask free declaration” in May. However, wearing a mask indoors is expected to be required for a while.
BY EO HWAN-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]