The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency announced Wednesday that five people, including a married couple in theirs 40s who entered South Korea from Nigeria last month, tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19 virus. Seven days after the first reporting of the Omicron variant to the World Health Organization by medical professionals in South Africa on November 24, it reached South Korea. One of the patients was infected from contact with people who traveled overseas and over 100 people are thought to have had contact with them, which means community infection has already begun.
A highly infectious virus, such as Omicron, tends to have a low fertility rate but the risks of the variant are still unknown. Given the fact that the couple was vaccinated with Moderna yet still contracted Omicron, there are concerns about vaccines’ effectiveness against it. It is the safest to prepare for the worst-case scenario at the moment.
The government mandated 10 days of quarantine for all South Koreans and foreigners arriving in South Korea from overseas regardless of the vaccination status. Nigeria was added to the list of eight African countries banned for foreigners’ entry into South Korea. The Omicron variant has already spread to six continents. Countries subject to entry ban should expand to prevent further cases from overseas by keeping a close eye on the variant’s spread and a rapid contact tracing and quarantine should be implemented in case of new patients.
As of 12 a.m. on Thursday, the number of new daily patients was 5,266 and the number of critical patients reached 733, which are the highest levels since the first outbreak of COVID-19 in South Korea. The medical response system has reached its limit to the point that the Korean Society of Critical Care Medicine proposed restricting the admission of patients with little possibility for recovery into intensive care units. Even without the Omicron variant, the number of new daily patients is expected to reach 10,000 at the end of January. Many people might die without a chance to be admitted to a hospital. The government should make a decision to suspend the gradual recovery of normal daily lives and return to the social distancing scheme to stop infections.
The numbers of critical patients and deaths are rapidly increasing among those over 60, 57 percent of which are breakthrough infections due to the weakened effectiveness of vaccines. From this month, people aged over 60 can visit clinics without reservation to get a booster shot. Booster shots became available as of Thursday for those aged between 18 and 49 who completed vaccination five months or longer ago. Booster shots are the best option to reduce damage at the moment.