Is It Time to Stop Counting Infections?

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Min-cheol

    September 17, 2021 13:11

    The first case of swine flu in Korea was detected on May 2, 2009, and infections soon surged to over 10,000 a day. Health authorities tallied the number of daily infections and remained vigilant, but an anti-viral medication called Tamiflu was developed in late August of that year, making it no longer necessary to count the daily number of infections.

    But when will the tallying of daily COVID-19 cases stop? There are increasing calls to stop and shift the focus only to treating serious cases. This belief is at the crux of the "living with coronavirus" idea that lets patients with mild or no symptoms live normal lives without isolation. Some experts say that could be possible as early as the next month.

    At present, a mere 2.14 percent of coronavirus patients become severely ill, which adds credibility to claims that it would be more meaningful to focus on serious cases instead of obsessing about total infections. For instance, the government could announce that the number of seriously-ill COVID-19 patients declined by two to 348, while six died, instead of saying 1,943 new cases of infection were detected on Sep. 15. Some countries are already doing that.

    The current method of tracking the flow of human traffic for each infection is in fact ineffective because it is almost impossible to trace them all. Questions are also being raised about the need to put infected people who show no or mild symptoms in a government quarantine center for two weeks. There are also growing calls to let fully vaccinated people return to their daily lives, which would enormously ease the burden of fatigued medical staff who are being tied down in needless testing. So far, 68.1 percent of Korea's 52 million population have received at least their first vaccine injections, while 41.2 percent have been fully inoculated. The number of seriously ill people remains below 350. As of August, the fatality rate stands at a mere 0.29 percent, compared to 0.05 to 0.1 percent for the flu.

    But others claim that it is too early to stop tallying daily infections. Kim Woo-joo at Korea University Guro Hospital says the full vaccination rate must surpass 70 percent or a cure must be available before Korea stops counting cases. But even that is based on a consensus about the overall need to shift focus to treating seriously ill patients. More importantly, it has become difficult to ignore the desperate pleas of small businesses who are being ruined by endless lockdowns based on case numbers. The government needs to heed public complaints more carefully and be reasonable and practical in easing lockdown rules.

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