South Korea sleepwalked into virus crisis

After early success, S. Korea sleepwalks into virus crisis
People queue in line to wait for coronavirus testing while maintaining social distancing near a Christmas decoration at Seoul Plaza in Seoul, South Korea on Dec. 18, 2020. Source: AP
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Daily US Times: South Korea seemed to be winning the fight against the Covid-19: Quickly ramping up its contact-tracing, testing and quarantine efforts paid off when it weathered an early outbreak without the economic pain of a lockdown. But a deadly resurgence of cases has reached new heights in the country during Christmas week, prompting soul-searching on how the nation sleepwalked into a crisis.

The 1,241 infections on Christmas Day in South Korea were the largest daily increase. Another 1,132 cases were reported a day later on Saturday, bringing the country’s caseload to 55,902.

Over 15,000 infections were added in the last 15 days alone. An additional 221 deaths over the same period, the deadliest stretch, took the death toll to 793.

As the numbers keep rising, public confidence in the government eroding and the shock to people’s livelihoods is deepening. After resisting for weeks, officials could decide to increase social distancing measures to maximum levels on Sunday.

Tighter restrictions could be inevitable because virus transmissions have been outpacing efforts to expand hospital capacities.

In the greater Seoul area, more facilities have been designated for Covid-19 treatment and dozens of general hospitals have been ordered to allocate more ICUs for coronavirus patients. Hundreds of troops have been deployed to help with contract tracing and to find how the nation sleepwalked in the crisis again.

Kwak Jin, an official at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said that at least four patients have died at their homes or long-term care facilities while waiting for admission this month. The agency said 299 among 16,577 active Covid-19 patients were in serious or critical condition.

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