A growing number of warning signs are popping up for a possible resurgence in COVID-19, which should be taken seriously by both health authorities and the populace here, amid concerns that infection rates may shoot up faster during the summer holiday season.
The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases declined to 12,693 Monday, after the figure had stayed above 20,000 for two straight days, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Although the weekly average of 18,388 as of Monday was still below the 20,000 level, the recent growth trend is certainly worrisome.
Sunday’s addition of 20,410 cases, for instance, was unusually high given that fewer tests were conducted over the weekend. Monday’s figure also doubled from a week earlier, with some experts suggesting that a weekly “doubling” process might have already started late last month.
The latest data signals the country is set to confront a sixth resurgence of coronavirus infections, a much-dreaded scenario for Koreans who are just beginning to enjoy mask-free outdoor activities after enduring cumbersome virus-related restrictions as well as a string of tests and booster shots.
The Yoon Suk-yeol administration announced Friday that the nation has entered a new wave of COVID-19 as a result of the fast spread of highly transmissible new omicron strains. The daily infection count, experts warned, could soar as high as 200,000 in August, if the current pace of infections continues.
It is regrettable that another wave is threatening the health and safety of Koreans just three months after the government downgraded COVID-19 to the second-highest level of the four-tier infection disease control system on April 25, following the clear weakening of the pandemic.
The main culprit for sparking another mass infection phase is omicron’s new subvariant BA.5, which is expected to become the dominant strain across the nation as it spreads at a fast clip while skirting immunity.
Other factors could also fuel the resurgence. People will move around the country more during summer vacations, air-conditioned rooms with limited ventilation increase the virus’ circulation indoors, and immunity from booster shots will begin to wane.
It is understandable that the public is now less alert to the dangers of possible infections through close contact without wearing masks, as health authorities are taking fewer prevention steps and the general sentiment is that the COVID-19 era is finally drawing to a close.
The problem is that massive COVID-19 infections cannot be ruled out, especially as the nation is lowering its guard against new strains that are more contagious.
The subvariant BA.5, in particular, must be tightly monitored and kept at bay through proactive measures. In France, the highly transmissible subvariant and its sister strain BA.4 touched off a new wave of infections, accounting for about 75 percent of over 200,000 new daily infections.
It is a matter of time before Korea follows the same, perilous path of infections, which could mean bringing back some of the previous social distancing rules. Even if the new strains have evolved to become far less deadly, a number of health and social issues could arise if it hits large numbers of people around the country in a short period of time.
It is inevitable that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines declines over time. Since many of the fatalities are of people aged 60 or older, the government should more actively encourage the elderly to go for a fourth jab. So far, only 31.4 percent of that age group have received a fourth dose.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo should try to come up with effective measures when he holds a meeting Wednesday to tackle the threats of new COVID-19 strains. In addition, the government should address the critical absence of a health minister to coordinate policies to battle the virus.