The number of new COVID-19 infections reported on Wednesday reached 4,115, setting a record high since the pandemic broke out. The number of severely and critically ill patients has also reached its highest at 586, with 34 deaths. With 71% of the ICU beds currently occupied (Seoul metropolitan area: 83.7%, non-metropolitan area: 50.9%) as of Tuesday 5 p.m., three patients have died in just this week while waiting for available hospital beds. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said that the country’s COVID-19 situation is on the brink of implementing the emergency response plan.
The government launched a committee to assist transition into a phased return for normalcy and plans to hold a meeting today to discuss ways to tighten COVID-19 measures. Instead of put “With Corona” scheme on hold by introducing an emergency plan, the government’s focus is on expand the use of COVID-19 vaccination pass program, which includes reducing the number of unvaccinated people allowed to enter restaurants and cafes from four to two; requiring minors to bring vaccination passes to enter mass venues and karaoke; and introducing an expiry date on vaccination passes so that more people are incentivized to get booster shots. Given that the Seoul metropolitan area has surpassed the threshold to launch an emergency response plan, where 75% of ICU beds are occupied, the measures to tighten COVID-19 prevention measures must promptly be implemented, including the expansion of vaccination pass programs, even just in the metropolitan areas.
However, the number of severally and critically ill patients is on a sharp increase, faster than expected, it is doubtful whether the current crisis can be overcome without initiating an emergency plan. The government initially assumed that the share of severally and critically ill patients will amount to 1% of the total infection if it implements the “With Corona” scheme, and the medical system is capable of providing necessary care to up to 7,000 new daily cases. However, critically ill patients take up around 2% of the total infection, and in Seoul, where available hospital beds are in shortage, COVID-19 patients are treated in emergency room, which in turn lead to inability to admit emergency patients in need of emergency treatment into emergency unit. In the event where the “With Corona” scheme is suspended, the self-employed would be among the worst hit. Yet the government cannot overlook the collapse of the medical system. It needs to reexamine available medical resources and major indicators so that it is prepared for launching an emergency scheme whenever it becomes necessary.
With the spread of the Delta variant, COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness has significantly declined, and the vaccination plan includes booster shots. Israel’s full vaccination rate is still low, with only 66% of its population has been fully vaccinated, but the percentage of people having received booster shots amounts to 43%, which is the reason why Israel is keeping the infection rate at a three-digit figure. The government must urgently drive up the pace of booster shots, which currently stands at a mere 5% of the entire population.