January 20, 2023 10:08
Friday marks the third year since a Chinese woman who entered Korea from Wuhan on Jan. 20, 2020 became the first COVID case detected here and the coronavirus pandemic officially began.
So far, nearly 30 million cases have been reported here, while around 33,000 Koreans have died while the lives of countless others were turned upside down. But now the end of the tunnel seems in sight. Health authorities believe the pandemic has peaked and infections are unlikely to soar so that the indoor mask mandate can be lifted next month.
Average daily infections stood at around 30,000 this week, which means their cumulative number will surpass 30 million later this month.
According to Our World in Data, Korea ranks seventh in the world after the U.S., India, France, Germany, Brazil and Japan in terms of cumulative COVID cases, but that does not include China, which does not publish its figures.
Health authorities here have managed the pandemic relatively well. Total COVID cases only surpassed 1 million on Feb. 6, 2022, 748 days after the first case was detected here. But the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant brought numbers swiftly to 20 million just five months later.
Around two thirds of total infections, in other words, happened in a few months last year, and fatalities were also concentrated during that period. So far 33,104 people have died of or with COVID in Korea, 57.3 percent of them from January to June last year.
There was no major surge in infections with a new variant this winter. The average weekly tally fell to around 30,000-40,000, while hospitalized patients, which hovered around 500 last December, have also dwindled.
Once the indoor mask mandate is scrapped after the Lunar New Year, masks will only have to be worn in hospitals and on public transportation.
The final return to normal will depend on the vaccination rate among senior citizens. Chung Ki-seok at the Korea Disease and Prevention Agency said, "Even if the indoor mask mandate is lifted, I think people will keep wearing masks in crowded places, and I urge senior citizens and other high-risk groups to get vaccinated."
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