'Special quarantine measures' won't contain COVID spread: experts

Asia's Tech News Daily

'Special quarantine measures' won't contain COVID spread: experts

Medical workers prepare to conduct coronavirus tests at a testing center in Songpa District, Seoul, Tuesday. Yonhap

Critically ill patients reach record high of 661

By Lee Hyo-jin

The government’s latest “special quarantine measures” may be ineffective in responding to the current COVID-19 crisis here, according to medical experts, who warned of a harsh winter unless stronger measures are introduced.

Amid an unrelenting surge in new infections and critical cases, the government announced Monday that it would not move on to the second phase of its “Living with COVID-19” strategy, but instead remain in the current first stage for the next four weeks, while implementing additional special quarantine measures.

These measures include an expansion of the provision of booster shots to people aged under 50 if five months have passed since their “primary vaccination,” as well as setting a six-month limit on its “vaccine pass.”

Also, in order to cope with a shortage of hospital beds, newly infected patients will be placed under home treatment, reserving hospitalization for people aged 70 and above and those suffering from chronic illnesses.

Kim Woo-joo, an infectious disease expert at Korea University Guro Hospital, viewed these measures as doing little to solve the current COVID situation.

“There is nothing special in the government’s special quarantine measures,” he told The Korea Times. “The most urgent task is to bring down the number of critical cases and deaths, and in order to do that, it is inevitable to reintroduce some social distancing regulations. But these measures were excluded.”

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 3,032 new infections for Monday, while the number of critically ill patients reached 661, the highest ever. According to the KDCA, Tuesday, there were also 44 more deaths the previous day.

The health ministry had considered tightening limits on private gatherings and expanding the vaccine pass system to children, but decided to gather more public opinion, considering the socioeconomic impact of such measures.

Kim said, “Reinstating distancing regulations is not an easy decision for the authorities considering the problems that would bring to the self-employed, but they must take bold action to ensure public safety.”

'Special quarantine measures' won't contain COVID spread: experts

A medical worker at a coronavirus testing center in Songpa District, Seoul, shows people how to fill out a health questionnaire prior to undergoing the test, Tuesday. Yonhap

Kim also criticized the government’s push for the expansion of home treatment.

“Due to the government’s failure to predict the surge of critically ill patients and a lack of feasible measures to secure enough hospital beds, patients will now be sitting at home where it may be difficult to receive medical support in a timely manner,” he said.

Chon Eun-mi, a professor at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital, echoed the sentiment, saying, “Early treatment at hospitals is essential to prevent patients from deteriorating into a critical condition. Expanding home treatment may put elderly patients at a bigger risk of falling seriously ill.”

But the worst is yet to come, according to the experts, who are expressing concern that the government is downplaying the threat of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Though little is known about the Omicron mutation yet, recent studies suggest that it is potentially more transmissible than previous variants and may evade some of the protection afforded by the vaccine. Omicron has been confirmed in a growing number of countries including Canada, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Chon said, “It is just a matter of time before Korea reports its first case of the Omicron mutation. And if the variant enters the country, due to lax quarantine measures, we may see the number of new infections double toward the year-end.”

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