South Korea reached another daily record of COVID-19 deaths on Thursday as health officials reported more than 621,000 new infections.
The 429 deaths reported in the last 24 hours are about 140 more than the previous one-day record set on Tuesday. The death toll could rise further in the coming weeks, considering the gap between infection, hospitalization and death.
Covid-19 still has a much lower mortality rate in South Korea than the size of the population compared to the United States or many European countries, with officials blaming high vaccinations for more than 68% of the population receiving booster shots.
However, some experts say that health officials have clearly underestimated how large levels of the outbreak will put pressure on dilapidated hospital staff who have just emerged from the delta wave. They criticize the government for sending the wrong message to the public by easing restrictions on social distance and effectively communicating that Omicron is light.
The transition was probably exacerbated by an intense presidential campaign leading up to last week’s election, which appeared to have eroded political power to sustain a harsh viral response.
Lee Sang-on, a senior official with Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said in a briefing that health authorities were “apologizing” for the outbreak of Omicron cases larger than they expected. He said the new cases reported on Thursday included about 70,000 infections that were mistakenly dropped from Wednesday’s list and that the actual daily increase would be about 550,000.
Lee said the country’s recently revised testing system, now centered around rapid antigen testing to preserve laboratory tests for high-risk groups, is contributing to the daily growth by casting an extensive net to detect infections in the population.
He added that a highly transmissible Omicron subvariate known as BA.2 also appears to be driving the infection. About 26% of recent cases in the country have been linked to BA.2, up from about 17% last month, Lee said.
Omicron has forced South Korea to abandon a strict COVID-19 response based on mass laboratory testing, detection of aggressive contact and segregation, to focus on limited medical resources in priority groups, including those 60 years and older and pre-existing medical conditions. There are.
Health officials have recently significantly relaxed quarantine restrictions and border controls, eliminating the need for adults to show vaccine or negative test evidence when entering potentially crowded places, such as restaurants, so that more people and health workers can respond quickly to expanding treatment at home.
About 2 million virus carriers with mild or moderate symptoms have been asked to be isolated at home to save hospital space.