The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients in Korea has exceeded 1,000 in two months, while the number of deaths relative to population outnumbers those in France, the U.K. and other European countries. As of Wednesday, the day of the presidential election, the number of accumulated COVID-19 patients in Korea is expected to exceed 5 million, roughly 10% of the total population.
As of midnight on Tuesday, the number of new confirmed cases in Korea amounted to 202,721. The number of daily new confirmed cases has exceeded 200,000 for five consecutive days in spite of fewer tests held over the weekend. The number of accumulated COVID-19 cases in Korea amounted to 4,869,691 and expected to hit the 5 million threshold as of midnight on Wednesday.
The health authorities estimated that the growth of COVID 19 patients would be flattened when the number of new daily confirmed cases hit 35,000, but many are concerned that the actual number would be higher. First of all, it is likely that the pandemic would spread wider when confirmed patients visit the polls on the Election Day. “It is a fact that more people would likely to be infected as confirmed patients go out to vote,” said Park Yeong-jun, the head of the Tracing Contact Team at the Center Disaster Management Headquarters.
The aftermath of easing social distancing measures is expected to unravel this week. The government scrapped the proof of vaccination requirement (where people present vaccine certification or negative test results to enter facilities) and extended business operation hours for restaurants and cafes, effective from Saturday. The COVID-19 panel for the Korea Medical Association, however, advised that easing social distancing would be too early at this stage and should not be encouraged.
Indicators of COVID-19 severity also grow worse every day. As of Tuesday, the number of critically ill patients admitted to COVID-19 wards amounted to 1,007, reaching the 1,000 mark in just two months after Jan. 3 when it reached 1,015. The number of deaths on Tuesday reached 186, the second largest figure since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The government explains that the ratio of hospital wards for critically ill patients is at 59.6%, adding that it can handle more patients at this stage. However, this perception is a stark contrast with those working on the medical field. The actual number of deaths from COVID-19 is being misrepresented as the most elderly patients aged 70s or higher pass away in just a few days after being admitted. Over the past week, there were 1,112 deaths from COVID-19. As of Dec. 18, 2021, when the number of critical patients exceeded 1,000 due to the Delta variant, the number of weekly deaths from COVID-19 stood at 434.
The growth of COVID-19 related deaths is more concerning than ever. According to Our World in Data, an international data and research site, the number of pandemic deaths per one million domestic population in Korea was 2.89 as of Sunday (weekly average), higher than France (2.42), Germany (2.41) and the U.K. (1.64). South Korea, which had ranked 37th for COVID-19 related deaths among OECD countries as of Feb 6, shot up to 15th place in one month.
As the number of patients being treated at home accelerated in growth, the government suggested to halve health monitoring visits for high-risk patients such as those over the age of 60 from twice to once a day. “We are considering adjusting monitored visits, depending on the health condition of patients, as the number of confirmed cases increase,” said Park Hyang, the head of the Pandemic Handling Task Force at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters.
The government has decided to replace PCR tests with rapid Antigen tests for Day 7 tests for those entering Korea from overseas, effective from Thursday. Mandatory PCR tests required twice a week for nursing hospital workers will be waived for those that have been vaccinated four times.