Avoiding past mistakes

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Avoiding past mistakes

Covid-19 infections are surging again after a continuous decline since May. President Yoon Suk-yeol has even suspended his signature “doorstep” interviews with reporters on his way to the new presidential office at Yongsan. Some medical experts predict a doubling of cases each week and a spiking to 200,000 by August. In particular, the fast spread of the BA.5 variant sounds alarms. Concerns are high that citizens who have been infected with the virus can catch the new variant again, including those who were fully vaccinated.

We can learn some lessons from Europe where the new variant is spreading as well. According to the non-profit European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (Esicm), the number of cases soared by 40 percent in France and 34 percent in the UK. Fortunately, the fatality rates are not that high, as recently announced by Korean public health authorities.

Nevertheless, the number of patients who need hospitalization will continue to grow. At one point, the number will rise exponentially, which will mark the beginning of a sixth wave. As the numbers of critically-ill patients and deaths soar, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration must adroitly prepare for all possibilities. The government must not repeat the slow reactions by the Moon Jae-in administration in the initial stages of the pandemic.

Last summer, the previous administration had serious trouble finding enough hospital beds ahead of the fourth wave. Some critical patients had to move around in ambulances to find a hospital and some of them died in emergency rooms. Therefore, the government must arrange a sufficient number of beds, doctors and nurses above all. There were 33,165 beds exclusively designated for Covid-19 in March, but only 5,827 are now.

At the same time, the government must elevate the fourth vaccination rate for people older than 60 — which remains in the 30 percent range — given the high risks to that age group. Despite low public trust in vaccines after the spread of the Omicron variants last spring, vaccines are still the most powerful weapon against the virus. The public health authorities must decide whether to expand the age group eligible for a fourth vaccination to people under 60.

The government must preemptively purchase new vaccines to be developed soon. If it takes a laidback approach as the past administration did, the country could face a crisis again. Fortunately, it plans to announce new guidelines for quarantine and medical systems to tackle the challenge based on debates by an advisory panel consisting of medical professionals from outside. As the new government repeatedly stressed the importance of a “science-based” battle against the pandemic, we urge the government to shun a “politically-motivated” one this time.
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