Covid cases rise as a seventh wave rears
Korea is confronting an alarming surge in Covid-19 cases that some experts worry could be a fresh wave of infections.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country reported 54,766 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday. The daily casecount stayed above 50,000 for the second day in a row after it crossed the 50,000-mark on Tuesday for the first time in 46 days.
“We believe that Covid-19 cases have now started to increase,” said Lim Sook-young, director of the infectious disease crisis response bureau at the Central Disease Control Headquarters in a press briefing on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s cases were a 34.1 percent rise from the same day a week before, and an 85.6 percent increase from the same day two weeks ago.
The daily average of new Covid-19 cases over the past seven days was 39,193.
Hospitalized Covid-19 patients in serious or critical condition increased by 15 from the previous day to 303 as of Tuesday midnight. That put them over 300 for the first time since Oct. 11.
Thirty more people died of the virus overnight, bringing the death toll to 29,239.
Health authorities cited an increase in physical contacts at things like festivals along with a decrease in immunity and increased indoor activities as factors in the rise of new cases.
“Many events are taking place nationwide after the lifting of social distancing rules,” said Lim. “We believe the increase in the number of confirmed cases is related to the increase in people traveling and in-person contacts through such events as festivals.”
Traveling has picked up across the country.
According to a KDCA analysis of mobile phone data, there were 288.91 million records of travel across the country from Oct. 24 to 30, which was a 6.2 percent increase from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.
Health officials also say that immunity from vaccines and past infections is steadily waning.
“The seventh wave of the pandemic started last week,” noted Jung Jae-hun, a preventive medicine professor at Gachon University College of Medicine.
“Patients could start to increase from this week and hit a peak at around mid to late-November,” Jung added.
Yet he believed the seventh pandemic wave is likely to be smaller than the country’s sixth, which hit a peak at 180,745 cases on Aug. 17.
The country is keeping a close eye on new coronavirus subvariants coming in from overseas.
A flurry of new Covid-19 variants including BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and XBB.1, which is growing fast abroad, has been detected in Korea.
While the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, which led the sixth wave, continued to be the dominant strain as of the fourth week of October, BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and XBB.1 each accounted for 0.4 percent, 0.7 percent and 0.5 percent of new locally-transmitted infections, all increasing from the week before.
“We will be able to determine whether we’re in the seventh wave after seeing how these subvariants change,” said Lim.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Omicron subvariant BQ.1 and its offshoot BQ.1.1 are spreading, warning that they could become dominant around January and drive a winter surge.
BY SEO JI-EUN, HWANG SU-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]