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Moon says current surge ‘last hurdle,’ warns against panic

Authorities predict new cases could reach up to 170,000 by late Feb.

President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in on Monday warned against panic in face of the spike in COVID-19 cases saying that it could be the “last hurdle” in returning to normalcy.

“They say it’s always the darkest before dawn,” Moon said, referring to the record number of COVID cases in Korea. “I think this is the last hurdle on the way to recovery. If we believe in the government and work together, we will be able to progress toward normal life more quickly.”

Moon made the remarks at a meeting of the COVID-19 Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters. It was the first time in more than six months that he has presided over the meeting since July 25 last year.

While Moon said it was difficult to predict how much longer it would take for the omicron surge to subside, he urged people to remain calm.

“We don’t have to be overly afraid although (we need to) raise the level of concern,” Moon said. “When people’s mature citizenship, quarantine and medical capabilities are fully demonstrated, the omicron variant can be overcome.”

He said Korea has managed to keep the cumulative number of confirmed cases in proportion to the population, and the cumulative fatality rate, at the world’s lowest level thanks to proactive home treatment, early introduction of oral medications and vaccination.

“From now on, this is the real test — to respond to the omicron variant,” he said, urging ministries to assess any need for further tweaks to the omicron response system currently in place.

Moon said it was necessary to focus on the management of high-risk groups according to the characteristics of the omicron variant, which is highly transmissible but is less severe, and to focus on preventing the risk of serious illness and death.

“Even if the number of confirmed infections increases, critical cases and fatality rates can be successfully overcome if they are managed stably and the medical response capacity is maintained.”

On the same day, health authorities said the number of daily confirmed cases could reach between 130,000 to 170,000 at the end of February due to the spread of the omicron variant.

Lee Sang-won, a crisis response analyst at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said, the prediction is a “result of synthesizing all the epidemic speed, transmission possibility, infection probability and vaccination effect in the future.” He added that most researchers agreed that Korea could see more than 130,000 infections a day.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said, “The detection rate of the omicron variant increased rapidly to 92.1 percent in the first week of this month.”

Omicron is at least twice as infectious than the delta variant, and the risk of transmission among family members or close contacts is also very high compared to delta, she said.

“The severity and fatality rates of the omicron variant are estimated to be one-third to one-fifth compared to delta,” Jeong said. “However, it is judged that the outbreak at the age of 60 or older could lead to serious illness and death.”

The daily infection tally recently exceeded 30,000 after having surpassed 10,000 for the first time on Jan. 26. As of Sunday midnight, the number of new cases had increased by 35,286, staying above 30,000 for three days. Of the new cases, 35,131 were local transmissions. The number of critically ill patients were 270, down by two from the previous day.



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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