Fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic does not seem to be waning even after 10 days of the toughest Level 4 social distancing rules having been imposed in the metropolitan area. As of Tuesday, South Korea reported a new record high of 1,784 new Covid-19 cases by surpassing the previous record of 1,615 just in a week. This is a number that does not include some 260 sailors of the Cheonghae unit.
The government initially expected the stricter measures to prove effective within seven to 10 days, which unfortunately was not the case as there is no change in the number of people travelling across the country. Tougher social distancing rules have been introduced in the Seoul metropolitan area, as a result of which the number of people moving within the metropolitan area decreased by 8%, yet the number of travels within the country declined by a mere 2.3%, seemingly owing to people flocking to non-metropolitan areas, such as Jeju Island with 20.3% surge in traveling, where social distancing rules are less strictly enforced, for summer holidays. Rapid spread of the Delta variant is also fueling the infection rate. Around half of the domestic cases have contracted the Delta variant. Patients contracting the highly contagious Delta variant make up 33% of the total number of confirmed cases, with prospects of further increase.
As the Level 4 social distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area are scheduled to be lifted coming weekend, the government is poised to announce a new social distancing policy on Friday at earliest. Assuming the trend continues, the current social distancing scheme is likely to be extended or, if worse comes to worst, even tougher measures may be necessary. Experts suggest that the Level 4 social distancing rules in the metropolitan area be enforced longer; non-metropolitan areas raise their social distancing scheme to Level 3 without exception; and restaurants and cafes operate reduced hours or pivot to takeout and delivery. All these measures are sufficiently burdensome for the pandemic-weary people and economy having suffered a heavy blow, but a preemptive bold decision should be made before it is too late.
The number of severe and critical patients has begun to surge again to some 200 cases a day, offsetting a previous decline due to vaccination of the elderly. The government assured that there is plenty of hospital capacity to treat critical patients. But the problem is that we see a medical personnel shortage. By the end of the month, more people will have been vaccinated, and there will not be enough medical workers to care for patients. Measures to expedite the bed turnover rate must be prepared in advance, such as by allowing medical workers in the field to exercise discretion in determining which patients to discharge.