7,630 new COVID-19 cases reported as Omicron surges

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7,630 new COVID-19 cases reported as Omicron surges

A person is tested for COVID-19 at a makeshift testing station in front of Seoul Station, Sunday. Yonhap

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Experts warn gov’t to take action over Omicron, as 7,000-plus confirmed cases reported for second consecutive day

By Bahk Eun-ji

Global Tech News Daily

Korea added 7,630 new COVID-19 infected cases on Saturday, including 7,343 locally transmitted, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The figure shows that the nation has seen over 7,000 confirmed cases for the second day running, following Friday when 7,008 people tested positive for the virus.

Global Tech News Daily

Infectious disease experts called on the government to shift to a new medical response, as the country’s daily infections soared to 7,630, the second-largest figure recorded here during the two-year COVID-19 pandemic.

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant is feared to become the dominant strain here, epidemiologists warned that damage to high-risk groups could increase, as was the case last month, in case the new medical response system is not implemented promptly.

Health authorities, in order to manage the pandemic more effectively, have announced a plan for a new medical response system, which will take effect in the event of average daily cases exceeding 7,000.

According to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, the detection rate of the Omicron variant in local communities from Jan. 16 to 19 stood at 47.1 percent, nearly double from 26.7 percent on Jan. 15.

In general, if a specific variant detection rate exceeds 50 percent in all confirmed patients, the variant is considered dominant. The KDCA predicted that the daily infections will hover around 7,000 for the next week, and that the detection rate of Omicron could be 80 percent to 90 percent within two weeks, including the five-day Lunar New Year long weekend, which starts Jan. 29.

Health authorities have announced plans to implement the new medical system in four local governments ― South Jeolla Province, Gwangju and the Gyeonggi Province cities of Pyeongtaek and Anseong ― on Wednesday, where Omicron has spread widely.

These four local governments will conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests only for high-risk groups, and people showing suspected symptoms will be first tested with a self-test kit at a screening center.

The authorities plan to expand it nationwide when the average number of daily infections exceeds 7,000 as it initially planned.

However, epidemiologists pointed out that the government was slow in responding to Omicron as it has already become dominant.

They warned that the government could repeat the same mistake it made last year when the bed occupancy rate in intensive care units exceeded 75 percent.

“The average weekly number of 7,000 infections is a figure that requires 7,000 to 9,000 infections throughout the week,” said Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious medicine at Korea University Guro Hospital.

“This means that we will be able to switch to the new system after next week. The plan has already come out and should be implemented soon, but the authorities have not been able to respond faster. This is no different from the situation in December.”

Experts warned that Omicron is known to have a transmission speed two to three times faster than Delta, which indicates that this year’s situation could be far worse than last year’s.

If this epidemic is not handled properly, the daily infections could surge to more than 10,000 next week, according to experts.

Jacob Lee, a professor of infectious diseases at Hallym University Gangnam Sacred Heart Hospital, said on a radio show, Wednesday, “In the worst case, the daily infections could rise to 90,000 by the end of February.”

“Since the daily infections are increasing rapidly, the government should shift to the new system across the country promptly,” Lee said.

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