September 24, 2021 09:02
Daily coronavirus infections rose to a record 2,434 on Friday morning as health authorities raced to vaccinate more people after the Chuseok holiday.
As of Thursday, 71.2 percent of the country's 52 million population has been given at least their first jab but only 43.2 percent had been fully vaccinated, and the latest surge has cast dark clouds over the government's aim of easing lockdown once more than 70 percent of the population are fully vaccinated by early November.
Infections are rising across all age groups and declined only among the over-50s, who are mostly fully vaccinated, from 2.7 per 100,000 two weeks ago to 2.4 last week. Cases among 30-somethings rose 4.5 to 5.2 per 100,000 people.
But a bigger source of concern is a steady increase in infections among people between 70 and 80, even though most of them are fully vaccinated. The number of cases among people in that age group rose from 439 in the fourth week of August to 556 in the third week of September. However, the number of fatalities declined from 74 to 36.
Chung Jae-hoon at Gachon University's Gil Medical Center said, "We could say that vaccination is effective because it decreases fatalities, but the fact that breakthrough infections continue shows that vaccination alone cannot control the spread of the virus."
Easing lockdown suddenly could lead to a surge in infections as seen in the U.K. and Israel, so experts advise a gradual approach as the disease becomes endemic. Kim Yoon at Seoul National University said, "A shift to living with coronavirus must take place slowly with a gradual easing of lockdown while putting more focus on treating serious cases."
To start a gradual return to normality, the government has decided to exempt fully people from self-isolation if they came into contact with an infected person. Instead, they just have to get tested for coronavirus twice over two weeks.
The government is also considering announcing infection numbers and fatalities only once a week instead of every day as global views shift to living with COVID-19 rather than counting numbers.
Infected people under 50 could be left to recuperate at home rather than in hospital isolation wards. Lockdown could be tightened only if infections spread quickly like the seasonal flu.
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