Infections: 75,084 | Cleared: 62,530 | Under treatment: 11,205 | Deaths: 1,349
(As of Jan 24, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The number of new cases continues to fall. In the week of January 17 to 23 there were on average 384 new cases reported each day, of which 110 were patients over the age of 60. This was an improvement on the previous week, which saw 516 new cases per day, of which 150 were in the over 60s.
January 20 last year was the day the first Covid-19 patient was identified in South Korea. In the 12 months since, 141 people per 100,000 have contracted the virus and the mortality rate has been 1.75%. Of the identified cases, 61.3% were among those aged 20 to 50 and 28.6% were in the over 60s. Large group gatherings, as opposed to personal contacts, were the source of 45.4% of the cases, and these clusters were most often linked to religious facilities, followed by nursing homes as the second most likely place of transmission.
The first case of Covid-19 transmission from human to animal has been identified in Korea. Based on evidence from cases overseas, it is highly unlikely that animal to human transmission would occur. But expecting general anxiety among pet owners, the Prime Minister has specifically ordered the government to come up with a strategic response plan for such an eventuality.
Apparently there is also disinformation circulating ahead of the vaccination program due to start in February. The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters has warned the public that conspiracy-based disinformation, such as claims that vaccines “alter” human DNA or that vaccines are administered to control human bodies, are making the rounds. The government will monitor the media and the web through the Korea Communications Standards Commission to identify and remove disinformation on Covid-19 vaccines.
Government to delete disinformation on Covid-19 vaccines, Yonhap News (Kor)
Jan 18—8am—Steady fall in number of cases, back to cafes and gyms
The number of new cases of Covid-19 in South Korea has been falling slowly but steadily in recent weeks. Last week (January 10–16) there were 516 cases identified on average each day, down from 738 the previous week. Among them, an average of 149 cases were of patients aged 60 or older.
There had been speculation through the week that the social distancing restrictions could be eased this weekend. The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters announced on Saturday, however, that the current levels—Level 2.5 for the greater Seoul region and Level 2 for the rest of the country—will be maintained for a further two weeks, until January 31. The four-person limit for private gatherings will also be extended. One reason for maintaining the current levels is that there are still 400 to 500 new cases being identified each day. The limitation of private gatherings is based on that fact that the proportion of infections caught through individual contact, as opposed to mass transmission events, has increased and now accounts for 40% of cases. Since the authorities are also planning for another “special pandemic prevention period” with heightened regulations and inspections during the Lunar New Year holidays in February, it makes sense to not lower the cautionary levels prematurely.
While maintaining current social distancing levels, the government has decided to make some adjustments for different types of facilities and businesses. Cafes nationwide may now admit sit-in customers until 9pm and must maintain a 1-meter distance between tables or put up dividers, just like restaurants. Churches and other places of worship across the country are now also permitted to gather for weekly services, filling up to 10% of seats in Greater Seoul and 20% in other regions. Other informal gatherings, such as Bible study sessions and retreats, are still not permitted. Specifically in Greater Seoul, night clubs and other types of bars are to remain closed, but gyms, hagwons, karaoke rooms, and indoor concert halls may open for business provided they admit only one customer per 8 square meters. Door-to-door sales promotion centers may also operate but may admit one person per 16 square meters. These facilities must also close for the day by 9pm.
Jan 11—7:30am—Have we passed the peak of the third wave?
Infections: 68,664 | Cleared: 50,409 | Under treatment: 17,130 | Deaths: 1,125
(As of Jan 10, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The third wave of Covid-19 in South Korea seems to have crested, partly thanks to the coldwave and snowstorms in the first week of January, which kept people at home. New case counts have stayed in the 600s for the last four days, and in the week between January 3 and 9 the average number of new cases was 738, down from 931 the previous week. The number of patients aged 60 or older also fell from 284 to 248 in the same period. The R number has steadily decreased from 1.28 in mid December to 0.88 in the past week. The current social distancing level will continue until January 17, at which point some restrictions may be eased if the downward trend continues.
Back in December, the first cases were identified of the new Covid-19 variant from the UK. So far, a total of 15 cases of the UK variant and one case of the South African variant have been found. They were all identified among foreign arrivals who underwent the mandatory quarantines, and no community transmission has yet been linked to these cases. One of the infected people died while in quarantine. Korea stopped all incoming flights from the UK from December 23, and this ban is expected to last until at least January 21. Starting January 12, arriving passengers who have passed through the UK and South Africa, regardless of their citizenship, must also present a negative PCR test result, go through a two week quarantine period, and receive a negative results in subsequent tests. However, apart from the initial reports in the media, there doesn’t seem to be widespread concern about the new variant making it to Korean soil just yet.
Latest cases of the UK variant in Korea , Yonhap News (Kor)
Jan 5 —5am—Staying the course until mid January
Infections: 63,244 | Cleared: 44,507 | Under treatment: 17,775 | Deaths: 962
(As of Jan 3, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
After a cautious holiday period, we saw a slight improvement in the average daily number of new cases, which fell to 931 last week (Dec 27–Jan 2) from 1,017 the previous week (Dec 20–26). The number of patients over 60 also decreased from 318 to 284 during that period, which is a good sign for hospitals and the mortality rate. Most of the cases continue to be found in Greater Seoul. The R number is down to 1.0, but clusters are still popping up in nursing homes and churches. Recently, a large cluster among inmates in Seoul’s Dongbu Detention Center prompted accusations of neglect and overcrowding.
Despite the improvement in numbers, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters decided it was too early to ease restrictions and announced an extension of Level 2.5 for the greater Seoul region and Level 2 nationwide for another two weeks, until January 17. Private gatherings of more than four people are still prohibited. Free virus testing in Seoul will also continue throughout the period. Religious facilities nationwide must continue to abide by Level 2.5 restrictions, meaning that informal gatherings are banned and weekly services should also be conducted online. Other restrictions on businesses will stay the same except for ski resorts and winter sports facilities, which may open for business while limiting customers to one-third the normal capacity and closing by 9pm. Small scale hagwons and study rooms in Greater Seoul may admit as many as nine students at a time. The measure is partly to allow for daycare while schools are out for the winter.