SEOUL – Over the past two years, Korea has waged a successful battle against Covid-19 with the so-called three-letter strategy: it enhances laboratory “tests” to rule out infections, it “traces” links using modern technologyand it “treated” patients by keeping them in quarantine, where they were monitored by the government.
But as the fast-spreading variant of Omicron threatens to overwhelm the public health system, that strategy now seems unsustainable – and possibly even pointless, South Korean officials said. Now, they are shifting the country’s pandemic focus to a new game plan: “pick and focus”.
Last week, South Korea began requiring patients who tested positive to only care for themselves at home, while the country redirected resources to the most vulnerable. This new approach has unnerved those accustomed to heavy government virus intervention, and as the number of people looking for themselves at home has increased, so have the complaints. increase accordingly.
Some say they were not approved when calling pandemic hotlines to seek information.
Being left alone felt like “Leave home” for many people.
The medical supplies the government promised to provide – such as thermometers, oxygen meters, hand sanitizer and other pandemic essentials – did not arrive on time.
“The government’s somewhat reluctant approach has come as a shock to those who have strictly adhered to what the government is asking them to do, like wearing masks and vaccinations, and in return they expect them to. have the responsibility to protect their lives,” said Kim Woo-joo, president of the Korea Vaccine Association. “It can feel like a survival-of-the-fit situation at best.”
By Tuesday, the government had mobilized thousands of neighborhood health stations to help ease congestion for people seeking help at home. Health officials have tried to reassure the public that despite the initial turmoil, the recent policy shift is inevitable, mandatory – and even justified – according to the Omicron data.
Until last year, South Korea had never had more than 7,849 new patients per day. But when Omicron became the dominant variant, the daily deposit increased to 93,135 on Thursday. The government expects up to 170,000 new patients a day by the end of this month. It is simply too many patients to give them all the time and attention they once had.
Fortunately, the Omicron proved less dangerous than the Delta variant. Even as Omicron surged, the number of Covid-19 deaths fell from a daily record of 109 on December 23 to 36 on Thursday. The number of seriously ill patients in hospital fell from about 1,000 in mid-December to 389 on Thursday. People aged 60 and over account for 93% of all deaths.
“We must use our limited resources more efficiently, focusing on preventing patients who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said. .
Under its new strategy, the government will dedicate surveillance efforts to high-risk patients staying at home – those aged 60 and over and those with pre-existing medical conditions – providing them with kits home treatment and call twice a day to check on their condition.
Other patients who test positive must self-monitor their symptoms at home and seek help only when their condition worsens. Healthcare workers will no longer phone them once a day or provide food and other daily necessities as they did until last week. Instead, now the patient’s family is free to go out to buy the necessary items if vaccinated.
Critics say the government’s new approach is detrimental to the disadvantaged, such as the poor, who do not receive medical care or other social services.
Woo Seoc-kyun, a representative of the Association of Doctors for Humanism, a national group of doctors, said: “Letting the virus spread is tantamount to doing everything to prevent the spread of the virus. its orchid. “It risks reversing what we’ve achieved so far through tight management of the pandemic, like keeping the death toll low.”
The government said that even if the daily recharges skyrocket, it will still consider lifting restrictions further so that South Korea can transition to “life with Covid-19″, treating the disease like ” seasonal flu”, provided that the severe number of sick patients is controlled.
Whether the government can keep up with the Omicron rise well enough to make such a change is up for debate. This week, USA put Korea on the list of “Do not travel”. The number of people being treated at home rose from 150,000 last week to 314,000 on Thursday and is expected to grow.
And so the number of people who get seriously ill is also possible.
Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University in South Korea, estimates that daily deposits will peak at more than 200,000 and stay at that level throughout March. Another estimate, by the government’s National Institute of Mathematical Sciences, predicts there will be around 360,000 new patients a day early next month.
Authorities are preparing more hospital beds for the seriously ill as a precaution. They are also asking nearby clinics to join in to remotely treat patients at home. Nearly half of workers at government-run health clinics in Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, have called for immediate relief from “extreme stress” caused by the heavy workload, according to the government. recent survey.
Last week, Korea stopped working GPS monitoring tool used to enforce quarantine – a smartphone app that alerts healthcare workers when a patient leaves home without permission. Many of the 60,000 workers who tracked those movements on the app will now be redeployed to support vulnerable patients at home, provide medication and manage hotlines.
“There has been a bottleneck in making calls, as we are trying to handle a spike in patients,” said Lee Ki-il, senior coordinator for disease control.
The changing attitudes of government are not only influenced by data. The increasingly impatient public is also becoming more vocal about the need for a new approach.
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Since South Korea began banning unvaccinated people from restaurants, cafes, shopping malls and other crowded places, a series of lawsuits have followed. The litigants argue that the restrictions discriminated against the unvaccinated and violated the liberties of citizens, as well as the rights of business owners.
“The government is infringing on our constitutionally guaranteed right to education” speak Yang Dae-rim, a senior in high school, joined a lawsuit against the government’s plan to ban unvaccinated teenagers. after-school cramming programs called hagwon, and from learn coffee shop.
Mr. Yang and others sued President Moon Jae-in separately for “abusing official power”.
The government later removed hagwon and learning cafes from the list of places where proof of vaccination was required.
Dr Jung, professor at Gachon University, said: “After two years of fighting the virus, South Korea has realized that the cost of maintaining its robust anti-pandemic protocols is not sustainable in the long run. More than 86 percent of the population has received at least two doses of the vaccine.
The government also advised people to get a booster shot, noting that more than 60% of those who died or became seriously ill did not receive the injection or received only one shot. But vaccination alone is not enough to end the pandemic.
Dr. Jung said: “We cannot end it like ending a war. “It will gradually become something that we don’t need to take seriously.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/world/asia/south-korea-covid-spread.html As Omicron increases, Korea limits pandemic intervention