On Dec. 13, the 13th day since social distancing rules have been reinstated, daily new cases dropped by some 2,000 from pre-social distancing period to 5,037. However, the number of critically ill patients recorded 1,145, the second highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. Furthermore, the Delta and Omicron variants are simultaneously spreading, which is the reason why we need to stay vigilant.
In last February, when COVID-19 vaccination started, many people expected that by the end of the year herd immunity would be achieved and we would all go back to normal. However, vaccine effectiveness waned with the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant, faster and fitter coronavirus strain. The number of confirmed cases surged, which aggravated the shortages of hospital beds, ultimately suspending the phased return to normal lives, which the government ambitiously embarked on, in just 47 days.
Still, the medical system did not collapse thanks to the hard work and commitment of medical workers at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Private hospitals earmarked more hospital beds at the expense of running deficits; healthcare workers, burned out after two years of excess workload, provide care for crowds of patients in excess of hospital capacity by repurposing doctors and nurses in general wards; ambulance and paramedic workers make dozens of phone calls to find hospital beds in order to save each and every patient; and public health-center workers return their vacation and provide care for home care patients.
Sophisticated public awareness is also reliable resources for COVID-19 prevention measures. Although South Korea fell behind on early vaccine rollout, active participation in vaccination efforts by Koreans has placed South Korea on one of the highest vaccinated countries (86% of the population got their first dose and 82.7% of the population are fully vaccinated). The elderly population has started to get their booster dose, and children and teens aged 12 to 17 have also started to get their vaccines, which helped curb the spread of the virus. The sacrifice of small business owners, who willingly participated in the government’s social distancing scheme at the critical moment of the third and fourth wave of COVID-19, should also be complimented.
The spread of the Omicron variant is delaying the end of the pandemic. Fortunately, we are entering the third year of the pandemic with a new weapon to fight against the virus―oral antiviral drug. So far, the total confirmed cases have reached 625,967, and the number of coronavirus deaths stands at 5,455. Instead of celebrating a small win, now is time to give thought to whether our efforts to save people had any shortcoming.
Dedicated healthcare workers and the sacrifice of small business owners have to be properly compensated. The government must build resilient and sustainable health system by devising prevention and control measures for COVID-19 based on science and through active communication with the public.