November 29—9:45pm—Daily deaths hit an all-time high
Deaths: 39 | Severely ill: 594 | Hospitalized: 651 | New cases: 3,639
(Seven-day averages as reported onNov 28, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
In the week of November 22 to 28, daily Covid cases reported in South Korea surpassed the 4,000 mark on two separate occasions. The number of severely ill people occupying ICU beds rose to 647 on Sunday, and the number of deaths in a day hit an all-time high of 56 the same day. Most of the severe cases and deaths were among seniors over 60 years of age, and many of them were in assisted living facilities, having therefore been some of the first people to be vaccinated earlier this year.
For the past three days, over a thousand people have been waiting more than 24 hours for a hospital bed. Nationwide, 75% of the ICU beds designated for Covid patients are already occupied, meeting one of the risk assessment criteria used to assess the progress of “Living with Covid”. But, for now, the KDCA is not expected to scrap the new system of disease management and go back to the old rules for social distancing. Instead, the Covid pass will become more important in daily interactions. One proposed policy is for Covid passes to have a six-month expiration date.
November 22—7:45pm—Assessing the risk of “Living with Covid”
Deaths: 24 | Severely ill: 502 | Hospitalized: 527 | New cases: 2,852
(Seven-day averages as reported on Nov 21, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
There were more than 3,000 new cases for five days in a row from November 17 to 21, and the number of severe cases and Covid-related deaths rose accordingly. Close to 70% of the cases continue to be found in the greater Seoul region—33.8% in the city of Seoul and 30.0% in Gyeonggi Province this past week. The vaccination rate has been slowing down, but so far 82.3% of the population have received their first dose and 78.9% are fully vaccinated.
On November 17 the KDCA made a statement clarifying the risk assessment framework that is used to determine whether or not to continue with each phase of the new disease control system. Numerical indicators from three categories—response capacity, confirmed cases, and vaccination rate—will be assessed weekly and reviewed every four weeks to determine the degree of risk. In particular, the availability of ICU beds, the medical response capacity, the numbers of new severe cases and elderly patients, and the rates of vaccination among the elderly and others with preexisting conditions are key indicators. These and other indicators, together with the opinion of a panel of experts will be factored into the KDCA’s risk assessment and will determine whether the “Living with Covid” experiment will continue or come to a halt.
November 15—9pm—Keeping the number of cases under control
Deaths: 19 | Severely ill: 458 | Hospitalized: 471 | New cases: 2,218
(Seven-day averages as reported on Nov 14, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
In the new “Living with Covid” system of disease control, the KDCA is paying less attention to the total number of new cases each day and more to the numbers of severe cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. The number of new cases is expected to increase, but it is hoped that this will be managed so that the medical system is not overwhelmed.
Vaccinations continue. As of November 14, 81.7% of the population have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine and 78.1% have completed their regimen. Since the start of the new, more relaxed system of disease control in November, there has been an increase in the number of breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated elderly people as well as new cases among unvaccinated minors. The elderly and others at high risk with preexisting conditions are encouraged to get booster shots. As for the minors, 63% of 16- and 17-year-olds, and 11.1% of 12 to 15-year-olds had received their first doses by November 11. Parents of teen girls are concerned about reported possible side effects of irregular bleeding and disrupted menstrual cycles following the Pfizer vaccine.
November 1—7pm—Living with Covid
Infections: 364,700 | Cleared: 336,548 | Under treatment: 25,303 | Deaths: 2,849
(As of Oct 31, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
Starting today, Korea is bringing in a new system of Covid prevention measures with the aim of gradually recovering a normal level of activity, or what is being termed “Living with Covid”. It’s a shift from testing and tracing all the individual cases to focusing only on caring for severe cases and keeping down the number of deaths.
The new system will progress in three phases. Each phase will take at least 6 weeks, which entails 4 weeks of implementation and 2 weeks to review progress and determine whether to move to the next phase, based on the vaccination rate, the numbers of severe cases and deaths, and the estimated rate of transmission.
The first phase will focus on lifting restrictions on businesses and permitting longer hours of operation. In the second phase, large scale events such as weddings and concerts will be permitted without limits on the number of participants. It’s only in the third phase that restrictions on private gatherings will be entirely lifted, though even through the first and second phases gatherings of up to ten people in Level 4 areas and up to 12 in Level 3 areas will be allowed. Mask-wearing and checking in, or providing contact details for access to venues, will continue throughout the phases. Those who have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days will be allowed to enter some facilities like karaoke rooms, saunas, indoor gyms, as well as visit hospitals and nursing homes, without getting a PCR test in advance, which is a big perk. People may use a vaccine certification app on their smartphone, a paper certificate, or a vaccination sticker on their ID card to prove they are vaccinated.
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