SEOUL: South Korea is experiencing record numbers of new COVID-19 infections, yet the country is relaxing COVID-19 rules.
Sure, there have been new restrictions, such as a 9pm curfew for restaurants imposed in December 2021 with other social distancing rules, to slow the Omicron wave when it first hit. And quite logically, this curfew was extended in early February, on a day South Korea saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases.
Two weeks later, new infections have nearly quadrupled to more than 100,000 cases. Despite this spike, the curfew was relaxed from 9pm to 10pm.
The government has announced more rules to be relaxed, creating public confusion after South Korea hit a new high this week with 219,241 cases and authorities expect a peak as high as 330,000 to come.
SHIFT TOWARD ENDEMIC LIVING IN SOUTH KOREA
The reality is that this pandemic has taken a toll on the country. The South Korean government had vowed to shift towards endemic living and treating COVID-19 like seasonal influenza. Now seemed as good a time as any other.
After all, Omicron leads to milder disease and accounts for the vast majority of cases. And with 86 per cent fully vaccinated and 60 per cent having taken their booster, daily numbers may have shot up – but the number of deaths and critical cases has stayed low.
Officials seem confident the healthcare system can continue to cope.
As of last week, less than 40 per cent of the national supply of beds for critical cases were occupied. More COVID-19 patients are being treated at home. Manpower-intensive, energy-sapping contact tracing has been abandoned.
The public has mostly accepted restrictions to their daily lives with aplomb, partly because they have helped South Koreans contain the outbreak while avoiding drastic measures like lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world.