Surviving the new Covid wave

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Surviving the new Covid wave

Ma Sang-hyuk

The author is the head of child psychiatry at Changwon Fatima Hospital and former vice president of the Korean Vaccine Society.

More coronavirus variants are affecting South Korea. The public is turning apprehensive as the daily infection count shot above 70,000. Viruses evolve with new variants but with luck they become less deadly over time.

People who were infected with Covid-19 are getting reinfected. But fortunately, the count of seriously-ill people from Omicron subvariants has not surged. Still, the daily case count is expected to climb.

As variants are impossible to prevent, there is a limit to predicting the development of the spread. Vaccine development also cannot match the speed of the evolution of variants. But treatments are in place, and when used well, the wave can be handled. The elderly, however, must be protected.

The government must pay heed to advice of various experts and take preemptive public health measures to calm the public. It must disclose objective data that people can easily comprehend through various channels. The general public must be aware of the accurate status quo of the Covid-19 variant spread.

The public health response must move beyond the daily count of infected cases. Public health authorities must manage critical patients and try to identify infections in early cases for fast treatment to prevent the illness from turning grave and minimize deaths. Since the trend differs by country, Korea must devise public health measures customized to its environment. Frequent testing and isolation alone cannot be the ideal means to battle Covid-19. Public health must consider features across the region and age group.

According to a report from the World Health Organization, the number of excess mortalities measured by the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic was 6,288 between 2020 and 2021. During the mass outbreak in March and April of 2022, many patients could not get hospital treatment. The lives of sick patients became endangered because they missed quick treatment due to a lack of hospital beds.

Such a medical vacuum must not take place in South Korea, known to be advanced in medical care. The government of President Yoon Suk-yeol must communicate with medical experts in local areas so that medical care does not become lacking in non-capital regions.

The new government has formed a national infection advisory board, but the members mostly reside in capital regions. That raises concerns over neglect of other parts.

The prime minister is in command of the situation, but the government could make the same mistake as the previous administration. The prime minister and head of the Korea Disease Prevention and Control Agency as well as private medical experts must all share responsibility and authority over public health measures. Communication among government offices should be smooth to make policy consistent. Guidelines incompatible with reality — such as on mask-wearing — should be fixed rapidly.

The coronavirus will evolve to live amongst mankind. The perspective on viruses needs to change. Most other countries have returned to normal, but Korea remains attached to measures such as masks and excessive testing.

As displayed in the early outbreak in Daegu in 2020, medical professionals and volunteers came forward to help in a time of crisis. If highly dangerous categories are well managed to prevent infection and early identification and treatment are readied, the country could return to normal life.

Although patients are increasing, we must have the wisdom to stand up to the virus threat. Through public consensus, the government must wisely weather the new wave.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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