Explosive rise in infections disrupts Korea's path to 'live with COVID-19' strategy - Korea Times
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Explosive rise in infections disrupts Korea's path to 'live with COVID-19' strategy

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People wait in line to receive a coronavirus test at a testing center in Songpa District of Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap
People wait in line to receive a coronavirus test at a testing center in Songpa District of Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap

Some experts expect daily tally to top 4,000 in a few days

By Lee Hyo-jin

An explosive rise in coronavirus cases following the Chuseok holiday is causing disruptions to the government's plan to adopt a "live with COVID-19" strategy from late next month.

The administration previously said that it was drawing up a plan to implement such a strategy, under which antivirus restrictions would be gradually eased, from the end of October when 70 percent of the country's 52 million population is expected to be fully vaccinated.

But the plan is now facing uncertainty due to a surge in infections following the long weekend holiday, which ran from Sept. 18 to 22, during which millions of people travelled across the country to visit their family.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 3,273 new infections for Friday, among which 3,245 were local transmissions, a record high since the coronavirus outbreak reached here.

The daily tally for Saturday dropped to 2,771, mainly due to fewer tests on the weekend, but was still the second highest number of cases recorded.

However, the worst is yet to come, according to medical experts who believe that the latest tallies do not truly reflect the number of infections during the holiday.

"Considering the incubation period of the coronavirus, a majority of people who tested positive during the previous two days seem to be those who were exposed to the virus before the Chuseok holiday," said Kim Woo-joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University Guro Hospital.

He added, "Due to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has become the dominant strain in the country, along with the rising cases of breakthrough infections, it will be highly difficult to curb the current spread only with the social distancing measures currently in place."

A woman gets tested for the coronavirus at a makeshift testing center near Seoul Station, Sunday. Yonhap
A woman gets tested for the coronavirus at a makeshift testing center near Seoul Station, Sunday. Yonhap

Chon Eun-mi, a pulmonologist at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital said, "We might see the daily tally top 4,000 in a few days."

"It took a while for the figure to surpass 2,000, but after that, as seen from the COVID-19 situation in other countries, the number escalates in a short period of time."

The experts said the government should focus more on curbing the virus spread for now, rather than engaging in further discussions about implementing its "live with COVID-19" strategy.

The health authorities, who believe the current trend will continue for the next couple of weeks, said they will decide on further steps in accordance with how the situation develops next week.

"The infections may keep increasing for the next one to two weeks," said KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong at a COVID-19 response briefing, Saturday.

Jeong urged people to cancel or delay private gatherings for the next couple of weeks, as stabilizing the current virus situation is critical before entering into the "live with COVID-19" plan.

Regarding concerns that the current wave will disrupt the government plan, the KDCA chief said, "We will make further decisions based on the number of infections and medical capacity next week."

Meanwhile, the authorities will announce their vaccination plan for the fourth quarter Monday, which includes the inoculation of pregnant women and children aged between 12 and 17.

The government has decided to include the minors on the list after it concluded that the vaccines had proven to be safe and effective for them in other countries. The education authorities noted that vaccination at schools will not be mandatory, and the parents of students will be given a choice.

In addition, booster shots will be rolled out beginning with high-risk groups ― people aged 60 and older and medical personnel ― while the dose interval between the two standard shots will be shortened to increase the number of those fully vaccinated.


Lee Hyo-jin lhj@koreatimes.co.kr


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