‘Too early to conclude 3rd Covid-19 outbreak is abating’
Experts are discussing the Covid-19 pandemic outlook for 2021 on a YouTube show on Tuesday. From left are Lee Wang-jun, chairman of Myongji Hospital, Choe Gang-won, an infectious disease professor at Myongji Hospital, Kang Yang-gu, a science journalist at TBS, Lee Jong-koo, former director of the KCDC, and Kang Dae-hee, leader of the Covid-19 science committee at Seoul National University College of Medicine.
While the government is already discussing loosening social distancing rules, experts warned against a hasty decision.
It is too early to conclude that the third wave of Covid-19 outbreak has entered a slowing phase, and the nation will soon have the lunar New Year holiday where families tend to gather in large numbers, they noted.
In the wake of the third Covid-19 outbreak, the government tightened social distancing rules on Dec. 8. It raised the social distancing level to 2.5, the second-highest in the five-tier system in greater Seoul, and Level 2 in other regions.
In the Seoul metropolitan area, the government banned a gathering of more than four people on Dec. 23.
The current virus curbing rules are in effect until Jan. 31. The government has started discussions on easing the rules and plans to announce the decision this week.
On a YouTube show on Tuesday, experts said they did not think the Covid-19 spread was slowing and called for a prudent approach.
Professor Choe Gang-won of the infectious diseases department at Myongji Hospital said it was too early to tell the viral spread was slowing.
“Covid-19 infections rapidly increased but gradually came down due to strict social distancing. If we ease social distancing, the outbreak will surge even more rapidly,” Choe said. “It is too optimistic to say the third wave of the outbreak has passed the peak and entered a slowing phase. It is dangerous to loosen the grip.”
Professor Kang Dae-hee of preventive medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine said the government failed to predict the second outbreak in August.
Some people said the third outbreak was almost over, but sporadic infections were occurring everywhere, he said.
“The government should be careful about saying that we have passed the peak,” he added.
Lee Wang-jun, chairman of Myongji Hospital, who also leads the Korea Hospital Association's Covid-19 emergency response committee, said he did not agree with the view that the third wave of Covid-19 cases was on a downward trend after hitting a peak.
“After some time, the number of new daily cases will drop to 100 to200, but it is unlikely that it will fall below 100,” Lee said. “A fourth outbreak may come while the Covid-19 vaccination is in progress. There may be aftershocks until the beginning of next year, and we have to manage this well.”
Professor Lee Jong-koo of family medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine, a former director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the nation should establish measures to prevent infections during the lunar New Year holiday.
“The reproduction rate (r) is estimated at around 0.7 now, and if we maintain this level, new daily cases will fall below 300 next week, and below 200 the week after the next week,” Lee said. “In February, we have a national holiday when many Koreans visit their hometown and family. The R-value is likely to go up this time. We should prepare for this.”
Kang said the government should evaluate the effect of social distancing and implement policies based on scientific and objective evidence.
“We should closely review the way healthcare policies are implemented and evaluated. To say that the third wave has passed its peak, the government needs to know whether it was because of the ban on private gatherings of more than four people or the business restriction after 9 p.m.,” Kang said.
The government’s policy is problematic because it is not based on scientific evidence, he went on to say.
“It is necessary to review and evaluate in which areas the government has done well and in which areas it hasn’t so that we can determine what to do in the future.”
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