Korea’s push for bringing normal life back marred by omicron, soaring cases

03-Dec-2021 Intellasia | Koreaherald | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Korea’s three-month plan for exiting pandemic restrictions is marred by a record surge in infections and the likely presence of omicron in communities.

On Thursday, Korea’s new cases reach a new record high of 5,266 topping 5,000 for the second day in a row while intensive care beds at Seoul hospitals were more than 90 percent full.

Amid the worsening surge, the verdict from President Moon Jae-in himself and top authorities remains that Korea will continue to commit to restoring normal life.

Moon reiterated Thursday his administration would be mobilising an “all-encompassing effort” to return to life without restrictions. As omicron emerges as a new threat, he said Korea was facing “the final obstacle” in the progress toward normal.

Earlier this week, Moon said that there can be “no turning back in Korea’s journey back to normal.”

“Regressing to the past” is not an option, he said.

Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, denied during Thursday’s closed-door briefing that there were plans in the works for re-imposing social distancing and other curbs that were scrapped a month ago.

But the administration’s relentless pursuit of ending COVID-19 restrictions over the winter months is facing a growing backlash, especially from frontline health care workers.

Dr Lee Jacob, an infectious disease specialist who has advised the government on its disease control policies since the early days of the pandemic, said in a statement posted to Facebook Thursday that health care workers may be forced to “give up” amid a spiralling crisis if steps to stem the surge aren’t taken.

He then urged Cheong Wa Dae to “demonstrate some will to contain the situation.”

“It doesn’t seem like Cheong Wa Dae is treating the situation seriously enough,” he said.

On the president calling pausing return to normal plans a “regression to the past,” infectious disease specialist Dr Kim Woo-joo of Korea University Medical centre said, “Protecting the safety and the lives of the people is no regression at all.”

“Our leaders are obligated to make decisions that can save most lives.”

Intensive care unit doctors at some of the top hospitals said in an emergency press conference Wednesday that Korea was nearing the point of having to triage patients. Unprecedented surge in cases has crowded hospitals to their limits, and not all patients could be guaranteed a bed.

After identifying five cases of omicron among recent travellers from Nigeria and one of their contacts Wednesday, Korea is implementing stricter controls at its borders. All arrivals will be required to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status, and once found infected, their samples will be sent for genomic sequencing.

Health authorities say it’s likely that omicron has already spread in communities, as some of the patients found to have omicron were exempted from quarantine before they were confirmed. Dozens of people who have come into close contact with omicron patients are still being investigated.

Dr Paik Soon-young, an emeritus professor of microbiology at Catholic University of Korea, said, “taking precautions is only wise until we better understand the new variant, such as its transmissibility or ability to cause more severe disease than previously circulating variants.”



Category: Korea

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