Covid infections fall below 10,000 for first time in 4 months
The country reported 9,975 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, raising the total caseload to 17,967,672, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The daily tally dipped below 10,000 for the first time since Jan. 25, when the Omicron variant was spreading and at 8,570 cases were reported. Of the new cases Monday, patients aged over 59 and under 19 — together considered “high-risk groups” for Covid-19 — accounted for 15.5 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively.
Monday's figure was down 24.9 percent from last Monday, and down 51.5 percent from two Mondays ago. Korea's Omicron wave peaked in mid-March and has been subsiding since.
The number of people who died from Covid-19 was 22 on Monday, with all but one in their 60s or older. Yet the number of patients in critical condition was 225 as of Sunday midnight, still remaining above 100.
In a press briefing on Monday, Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, highlighted the decline in cases, partly due to fewer tests being conducted on weekends. Son added that Korea's medical capacity is also stable.
Given the receding of the pandemic, the city of Seoul announced Monday that it is closing down all residential treatment centers — or Covid-19 quarantine facility for patients with mild cases — in phases by the end of this month.
Despite the current downturn in new infections, health authorities still remained cautious about another virus wave this summer with the possible emergence of new virus variants.
The more transmissible BA.2.12.1 mutation, as well as the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 — which may evade immunity — have been detected in the country. In addition, almost all Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted in Korea, except for the seven-day quarantine for Covid-19 patients and the indoor mask mandate.
“A resurgence of the virus could arrive in the summer and peak between September and October,” Kim Heon-joo, Vice Commissioner of the KDCA, said in a virus meeting held on Friday.
The seven-day quarantine for Covid-19 patients in Korea, which was scheduled to be scrapped from Monday, was extended by at least a month until June 20, health authorities announced Friday. The headquarters said it would “reassess the situation” in four weeks.
“The number of confirmed cases cannot decrease continuously, and we believe [the decline] will stagnate at some point,” explained Son on Monday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is “not over.”
“[Covid-19] is not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” noted Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, at the opening of the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva on Sunday.
“Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, and this is in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” he said, adding, “Only 57 countries have vaccinated 70 percent of their population — almost all of them high-income countries.”
Meanwhile, the appointment of a new health minister by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration remains in limbo.
Health Minister nominee Chung, a former president of Kyungpook National University Hospital, has been accused of using his position to help two of his children gain admission to a medical school and to help his son avoid active-duty military service.
Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) on Monday urged the nominee to step down voluntarily, calling for Chung to “decide his future himself,” while the president said he needs “a little more time” for a decision on Chung’s appointment.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]