As the daily number of new COVID-19 cases stayed below 30 for five consecutive days, some suspected the government was trying to minimize diagnostic testing just before the legislative election on Wednesday.
Despite the gradual drop of new COVID-19 patients along with the rigorous practice of social distancing, experts warned that more social activities could fuel the number of confirmed cases again.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of confirmed cases added 27, totaling the accumulated cases at 10,564 as of midnight Monday. Daily additions of new COVID-19 patients went down from about 50 on April 6-8 to 39 on April 9, and further down to 25 on April 13.
|Eom Joong-sik, a professor at the Internal Medicine Department at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, speaks during a YouTube live show, “Corona Fighters Live” on Friday by K-Health, a channel operated by The Korean Doctors’ Weekly.|
Experts said the keeping the daily addition of new cases below 30 resulted from social distancing. As the COVID-19 virus can spread from asymptomatic patients and those with mild symptoms, people should not be complacent about the recent state of a lull, they warned.
A local research team, led by Professor Song Joon-young of the Infectious Disease Department of Korea University College of Medicine, released the outcome of the analysis on 28 COVID-19 patients in the New England Journal of Medicine on April 7.
The results showed that three out of 28 COVID-19 patients had no symptoms, and 20 of them had fever, cold, or sore throat. Twelve out of the 20 symptomatic patients did not have a fever in the initial stage of the viral infection.
‘Korea’s healthcare cannot handle massive outbreak in Seoul metropolitan area’
An infectious disease specialist said COVID-19’s “stealth transmission” could be dangerous during a YouTube live show, “Corona Fighters Live” on Friday by K-Health, a channel operated by The Korean Doctors’ Weekly.
“Until we see zero new cases for four or five weeks, we cannot rest assured,” said Eom Joong-sik, a professor at the Internal Medicine Department at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, on the show.
“If you look at the data of people’s movements based on a telecommunication firm’s base stations, the movements decreased by 70 percent in two weeks. Its result is now appearing, which pushed down the daily new cases below 30,” he said.
However, social distancing for more than four weeks made people tired of being at home, and outdoor activities increased recently. The result of this is likely to appear after the election, he added.
He strongly warned that a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19 in Seoul and cities around the capital in April or May, just like the one in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, will break down the nation’s healthcare system.
Citing the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s research, COVID-19 infection in the 30 percent of Korea’s population would need about 20,000 ventilators, Eom noted. “Korea now has only 10,000 ventilators. In that scenario, half of the patients will be neglected,” he said.
‘Early voting, Easter pushed up human-to-human contacts’
The health authorities also raised concerns that a loosening of social distancing may lead to a surge of confirmed cases.
“Over the weekend, the early voting and the Easter drove up contacts of people, and the risk of transmission grew. It is very important to detect COVID-19 patients this week. So, if you suspect of an infection, you should actively seek to get tested so that we could identify patients early,” KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a regular briefing on Monday.
Although the number of the daily new cases came down, a lax social distancing could raise the chance of a massive outbreak, she warned.
“If a large outbreak occurs, it can break down the medical system and lift the death toll of high-risk groups. So, people should keep practicing social distancing and personal hygiene,” she added.
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