A year on since the official introduction of the novel coronavirus into South Korea, the government says the country has responded to the pandemic “superbly,” especially compared to other countries.
“Korea has managed to dodge the kind of chaotic situation seen overseas without having to lock down or close borders,” Yoon Tae-ho of the Ministry of Health and Welfare told a news briefing Wednesday, in an assessment of the past year.
On Jan. 20 last year, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of COVID-19 in Korea, who was an air passenger from Wuhan, China, the then-epicenter of the outbreak.
“In our continuous efforts to find a balance between social distancing and everyday life, Korea is third from last in terms of the number of patients among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states,” he said.
“Korea’s chief strategy has been identifying patients through massive testing efforts, quickly isolating their contacts, and providing timely treatment to those affected,” he said.
“In the process we have come up with innovative ways to combat the crisis such as electronic identification checks for contact tracing, drive-thru clinics and non-hospital facilities for housing patients with mild to moderate cases. There was also astounding levels of participation from the public with social distancing,” he said.
“This is how we’ve battled each of the three waves over the course of the year.”
But in the 29-minute briefing addressing the year of the pandemic so far no tribute was paid to the 1,300 people who had lost their lives to COVID-19. Seventeen more deaths were announced.
There were 404 cases of COVID-19 -- 373 local transmissions and 31 imported -- on Wednesday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The total tally of cases in Korea stands at 73,518.
For the past week, the number of local cases has averaged 445.1 per day which is still above the threshold for the second strictest restrictions in the country’s social distancing scheme. In a briefing earlier this week, the KDCA officials said more intensive social distancing will be likely necessary at least through the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls on Feb. 11-13.
Next month is when Korea is expected to start vaccinations against COVID-19.
Around 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines purchased through the COVAX facility -- a global initiative led by the World Health Organization -- were set to be shipped here “in early to mid-February,” Chung said in an interview with a local radio station on Wednesday.
The KDCA officials later corrected the prime minister’s statement, that no confirmation has come from COVAX yet. AstraZeneca’s vaccines are slated to arrive in late February, although the amount of doses had not yet been specified, they said.
Meanwhile, former president Park Geun-hye who is being held at a detention center in southeastern Seoul has tested negative for COVID-19 Wednesday, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement, after coming into close contact with an infected individual two days ago.
The premises is at the center of the country’s largest outbreak within a single facility, with at least 1,257 cases and two deaths to date.
Park, who is considered at high risk at 68 years of age, will stay isolated in a medical institution outside the detention center as a cautionary measure, the ministry said.
By Kim Arin (email@example.com