South Korea faced its deadliest day of the pandemic on Saturday, reporting 112 deaths over a 24-hour period, as the country battles a coronavirus surge fueled by the Omicron variant. Health authorities reported there were 643 patients hospitalized in serious or critical condition on Saturday, up from 408 patients a week earlier.
The outbreak in South Korea, currently one of the worst in the world, has intensified over the past week, reaching a record 171,452 cases in a single day on Wednesday. Since then, the number of cases has remained at a high level, with the government reporting 166,207 cases on Saturday. South Korea, a country of about 50 million people, is now reporting more cases each day than the United States, a development once unimaginable.
Although 86% of its population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, South Korea has seen a 201% increase in average daily cases over the past two weeks.
According to senior health official Lee Ki-il, who spoke at a briefing on Friday, the government plans to secure additional hospital beds in March. He added that the government and the medical community were doing their best “not to inconvenience the public”. Mr Lee said the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency was ready to receive and treat up to 2,000 patients with severe cases of Covid-19.
The government has responded to the outbreak by focusing on detecting the virus in high-risk groups – those in their 60s and older, as well as people with pre-existing medical conditions – and treating only the most critical cases. The majority of people who test positive are asked to simply take care of themselves at home.
This is part of the government’s new approach of learning to live with the virus. From March, those who live with people who test positive will no longer be required to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status. Previously, unvaccinated people had to quarantine for seven days if someone in their household tested positive.