'Circuit Breaker' Lockdown Looms as Infections Surge

  • By Lee Joon-woo

    November 05, 2021 13:32

    A surge of new coronavirus infections apparently exceeded the government's estimates after a phased return to normal started Monday.

    If the trend continues, a "circuit breaker" lockdown could be imposed, while experts are urging the government to speed up booster shots for people whose immunity is wearing off and inoculate children.

    A simulation by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Oct. 27 predicted that daily cases would only rise to somewhere between 1,345 and 1,673 on Nov. 3. But in fact daily cases soared above 2,000 for the last three days as Koreans threw caution to the wind even before lockdown was fully lifted.

    It is unclear why the simulation was so conservative since examples around the world suggest that infections will spike much higher once restrictions are relaxed, especially as winter approaches. But as it stands, it only predicted that daily cases would reach 1,527 to 2,810 around Nov. 24, which has now happened three weeks sooner.

    People wait in line to get tested for coronavirus in Seoul on Thursday.

    Since the virus incubates for around five to seven days, the new infections early this week are unlikely to show up in tests if they were contracted as a result of lockdown being lifted on Monday. That must mean that they date back even before the Halloween revels last weekend and numbers could spike much higher next week.

    The number of deaths is also on the rise, with 24 patients dying on Wednesday, the largest daily toll since Jan. 11.

    When it announced a phased return to normal, the government warned it could impose a circuit breaker if cases rise to over 5,000 a day. That was only expected in the worst-case scenario at the end of December, but at the current rate it could happen much sooner.

    "Currently, the occupancy rate of hospital beds for patients with severe COVID-19 is maintained stably at 50 percent," health authorities said. "The most important factor in deciding to impose a circuit breaker is the capacity to treat severely ill patients, but we could also take into account the proportions of severe patients and infections among the elderly and unvaccinated."

    Of the 2,482 people who tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, 556 were children and 731 people were over 60. Some 3,389 youngsters and 4,197 over-60s tested positive over the past week, up 25.6 percent and a whopping 68.1 percent from the previous week. The vaccinations of the elderly are wearing off because they got their jabs first, while most children have not been vaccinated at all.

    Prof. Jung Jae-hun of Gachon University's Gil Medical Center said, "We need to encourage booster shots and also increase vaccine uptake among children and youngsters."

    Health authorities have already said they could reduce the interval between full vaccination and booster shots from six months to five. In the U.S., children aged 5-11 have been given Pfizer vaccine shots since Monday, but they are given only 10 ㎍ of the vaccine, a third of an adult dose. The EU and Brazil are also considering it.

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