The spread of Covid-19 is not slowing down. The number of confirmed cases reached 16,452 per 1 million Koreans in the past week, No..1 among 216 countries. Germany, Italy, France, and Japan, which experienced the resurgence of Covid-19 in a similar period to Korea were on a continuous decline since reaching the peak after 30 days. On the other hand, Korea’s number of confirmed cases week-on-week is increasing 50 days in a row since the end of June.
The problem is that we don’t know the reason behind this prolonged resurgence. Korea has been stopping the spread of the virus with high vaccination rates and social distancing measures. However, as Omicron subvariant BA.5 became a dominant strain that evades immunity, the effect of vaccination diminished. Plus, the country even lifted social distancing in April. In addition, with the arrival of the summer holiday season, the demand for domestic and foreign travel recovered to the pre-pandemic level. Considering the Chuseok holiday season and back-to-school period, according to some experts, the peak of the 6th wave of the virus is yet to come, which means the spread could be prolonged even more.
The number of severely ill patients is surging to dangerous levels as well. It was 521 on Monday, which is twice higher than a week before, and eight times higher than a month before. The number of deaths, mostly people aged 60 years and older, is showing a similar pattern. The intensive care unit operation rate is maintained at 45%, but some regions are struggling to find hospital beds or emergency rooms. With this trend, what we have experienced in the fifth wave of the pandemic, where people had to find an emergency room in an ambulance, could be repeated.
The government is highlighting a ‘precisely targeted disease control policy’ which focuses on places with high confirmed cases. It is about focusing on high-risk facilities like nursing homes and institutes for the disabled to prevent death and the disease from worsening. But we are already seeing loopholes in the policy as the number of confirmed cases of people in their 60s is increasing. We need to assess whether patients with severe symptoms can be treated at the right time and whether hospital beds are enough for patients including pregnant women and children. The disease control policy should work on-site to prepare Korea for a prolonged spread of the virus.