The number of new COVID-19 infections continues to rise in South Korea, with the number of critically ill patients and deaths reaching new highs. In total throughout the pandemic, more than half a million people have been infected and nearly 5,000 have died.
Since Seoul launched its so-called “COVID” era on November 1, around 2,000 people have died, or 41% of total deaths throughout the pandemic.
Thousands of new cases of COVID are reported daily, including a record 7,850 infections on December 15. The number of critically ill patients hit a record 1,063 on Wednesday, surpassing the previous record of 1,025 on Sunday. In addition to soaring infection and death rates, three children under the age of 10 have died from COVID, all in the past month.
The hospital system is overwhelmed. Across the country, nearly 80% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds are occupied. In the Seoul metropolitan area, intensive care capacity is over 85% full. Intensive care beds in other cities and provinces are fully occupied.
President Moon Jae-in’s government on Saturday passed new social distancing measures, supposedly designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, while appearing to be backtracking from its “with COVID” agenda. The new measures are toothless and aim to limit the impact on large companies as much as possible. They limit public gatherings to four people and force businesses to close at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., depending on the type.
Moon admitted that his government had failed to prepare properly, saying through his spokesman Park Gyeong-mi last week, “I’m sorry we had to tighten up anti-virus measures again. During the gradual return to normalcy, we failed to suppress the increase in the number of critically ill patients and did not prepare sufficiently, including in terms of securing hospital beds. “
The crisis is the predictable result of the Moon Jae-in administration’s program, under which the population was told they had to “live with the virus” and the vaccines were enough to stop the spread of COVID. None of this has stood up to scientific scrutiny, as health experts have repeatedly warned that vaccines are only one aspect of many of the measures, including masks and social distancing, needed to stop COVID.
Schools also returned to a mix of in-person and online classes on Monday after they fully reopened on November 22. However, the Education Department is actively discouraging schools from reverting to full online courses despite the growing danger, mistakenly claiming that transmissions in schools are not high.
In elementary schools, all first and second graders will continue to attend classes in person. All children from preschools and special education schools will also be present in person. In other words, the youngest children are kept in school to make sure their parents stay at work, thus making profits for big companies. For older elementary school students, class sizes will be reduced to two-thirds of normal size, while the Education Department simply suggests a similar number for middle and high school classes. Schools where students are vaccinated are excluded even from these minimum measures.
These new restrictions do not apply to extracurricular academies. Dr Lee Jae-gap of Hallym University Medical Center pointed to the even greater danger at these facilities. “Cram’s schools and study rooms are not as well ventilated as the schools. Students stay in the facilities for more than a few hours during exam seasons.
Contrary to claims by the Department of Education, schools and private after-school study academies have become the new hotbed for COVID transmissions. In fact, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the number of infections among those 18 and under has exceeded that of adults over 19. The KDCA reported on December 16 that from the third week of November through the second week of December, children and adolescents accounted for 276.9 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 217.4 for adults. In addition, 16.1% of the 31,174 COVID patients aged 12 to 17 were hospitalized, including 14 in serious condition.
Immunization rates among young people also remain low. Currently, 69 percent of adolescents between 16 and 17 have received two doses of the vaccine while only 31.5% of those between 12 and 15 have received both doses. Children 11 and under are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. Only those over 18 are currently eligible to receive a third dose.
While the vaccines offer some protection, that doesn’t take into account the spread of the Omicron variant, of which nearly 200 cases have been identified in South Korea. Two doses of the vaccine have been shown to be ineffective in stopping the spread of Omicron. Even with boosters, it is possible to contract the virus. The KDCA reported on Sunday that four patients who had received their third injection had tested positive for the Omicron variant.
Despite their very limited nature, the government’s measures are criticized by the ruling establishment. The right Joongang ilbo denounced them as “draconians”. When it became clear that Seoul intended to implement new measures, the newspaper wrote in a December 14 article: “Of course, it is difficult to go back to the draconian distancing rules as in the past being given the difficulties and fatigue of the self-employed and the public. “
Despite such media turmoil, there is broad support to stop the spread of the virus. The wearing of masks is widespread, without the right-wing and fascist campaign against the practice that has been observed in other countries. A poll taken on Monday found that 71.3% of people were in favor of stricter social distancing measures. The same poll found that only 49.6% of people approved of the government’s handling of the pandemic.