Apr 26—8am—Still nervously watching the numbers, experimenting with local governance, more vaccines procured
Infections: 118,887 | Cleared: 108,475 | Under treatment: 8,599 | Deaths: 1,813
(As of Apr 25, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The average number of daily new cases for the week of April 18–24 was 659, up from 621 in the previous week. The numbers have been consistently rising in the past month, though fortunately there was no sharp, dramatic increase as feared. The proportion of cases not traced to known patients has risen to over 30% and the tracing capacity is under severe pressure. The government will watch the situation for another week, until May 2, before making any nationwide changes to social distancing levels or business restrictions.
Meanwhile, the province of North Gyeongsang, with its comparatively sparse population and fewer Covid cases than other regions, will start piloting the revised social distancing system today by implementing Level 1 for a week. This means the four-person limit on private gatherings as well as restrictions on businesses will be lifted in certain towns and cities in the province. Given that 35.3% of the population in this area is over age 65, senior centers and nursing care facilities will be especially monitored.
There has been growing anxiety about the supply of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines from the United States, the safety of the ones by AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, and whether South Korea will be able to reach herd immunity by November as planned. Then, just this past Saturday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency announced that the country has contracted an additional 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That brings the total number of procured vaccine doses up to 192 million (66 million from Pfizer), enough to inoculate 99 million people, or twice the population of South Korea. The rationale behind this is that a third booster shot may later be necessary and the age limit on vaccinations may be lowered so that teens and children could eventually get the shots as well. The immediate goal is to inoculate three million people by the end of April and 12 million by the end of June.
Apr 12—7am—Maintaining distance and avoiding nightlife
Infections: 109,559 | Cleared: 100,109 | Under treatment: 7,682 | Deaths: 1,768
(As of Apr 11, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The daily count of new cases continued to average in the 600s this week and the R number increased to 1.11. Another worrisome indicator is that between March 28 and April 2, 27.5% of new cases could not be traced to a known patient or cluster. The current situation is considered to be very similar to the days before the third wave hit at the end of last year. But the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters announced on Friday that the current social distancing levels of 2 for Greater Seoul and 1.5 elsewhere would nevertheless continue for the next three weeks. The 4-person limit to private gatherings will also be maintained. Several other regions have also moved to Level 2, however, due to a rise in their numbers of cases. Instead of raising the social distancing level across the board, the government has decided to specify that high risk facilities (bars and nightclubs) in regions implementing Level 2 should not operate for the next three weeks.
Meanwhile, one of the first actions of the new mayor of Seoul since his election on April 7 was to propose that Seoul conduct its own experiment on social distancing, specifically allowing night clubs and bars to open until midnight and restaurants until 10pm. The proposal by the mayor, who is a member of the opposition party, goes directly against the national guidelines, and the KCDA’s response so far has been to advise all local governments to coordinate with the national strategy in order to minimize risk and confusion.
Korea had halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on April 7, following the European Medical Agency’s announcement that there was indeed a causal connection between the vaccine and instances of rare blood clots. The KCDA then announced yesterday that the vaccinations would resume today, starting with those in assisted living facilities, the elderly over age 75, and special education teachers and caregivers. The KCDA determined that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of the rare blood clots, especially when Korea has a limited choice of vaccines available. People under the age of 30, who may be at more risk of side effects, will be exempt unless they have already received their first dose.
Apr 5—7am—On the brink of a fourth wave?
Infections: 105,279 | Cleared: 96,589 | Under treatment: 6,946 | Deaths: 1,744
(As of Mar 28, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
For the past five days, the daily number of new cases stayed above 500, even over the weekend when the numbers tend to decrease. The average for the week was around 477, a jump from 422 the previous week. Last week, 41 cases of infection from Covid-19 variants were also identified. More importantly, the R number has risen above 1.0 again, indicating the start of an upward trend. The Minister of Health and Welfare issued an official statement yesterday announcing that Korea is on the brink of a fourth wave. To prevent yet another period of tightened social distancing rules, which will be devastating to the economy, the minister asked citizens to stay vigilant despite the warmer weather and pandemic fatigue. He added that as the vaccine roll-out for the elderly begins in earnest in April and expands to the rest of the population by June, Korea will be able to loosen its restrictions. Until then, however, it is a race against time. So far only 962,083 people have been given their first dose of the AstraZeneca or the Pfizer vaccine, and 27,298 their second.