The chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) urged Koreans to reconsider their choice to go mask-free as the daily average number of Covid-19 cases in the past week surpassed 45,000.
“Now that the number of patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 is increasing, we ask that people voluntarily wear masks again in crowded places such as public facilities and mass transportation,” KDCA Commissioner Jee Young-mee said at a meeting of the Central Accident Management Headquarters on Wednesday.
The commissioner’s advice came over four months after the indoor mask mandate was lifted except at high-risk facilities such as hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, welfare centers for the disabled and mental health centers.
While Jee acknowledged that the legal obligation to wear masks indoors has mostly been scrapped, she emphasized “this does not mean that people do not need to wear masks,” adding that face coverings are “the most basic means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases.”
The KDCA commissioner also called on people who have tested positive for Covid-19 to abide by the five-day quarantine requirement.
According to the KDCA, the daily average Covid-19 caseload from July 25 to July 31 reached 45,529, with 57,220 cases recorded on July 26, the first day in 6 months that the daily caseload surpassed 50,000.
The total number of people who died from Covid-19 in the same time frame was 97, marking a 72.5 percent increase from the previous week’s death tally, while the number of people who were admitted to hospital for moderate to severe symptoms reached 1,220, up 19.7 percent from the previous week.
The agency predicted that the average daily caseload would reach 60,000 by mid-August, adding that cases of other infectious respiratory diseases, such as influenza, would likely rise as well.
It remains to be seen if the government will proceed with lowering Covid-19 to a Class 4 infectious disease, the lowest level in its four-tier classification system. It is currently a Class 2 disease.
If Covid-19 were to be lowered to Class 4, the indoor mask mandate currently still in force at high-risk facilities would become an advisory.
State subsidies for treatment and testing would also largely cease, as would financial support for lower-income workers and their families who contract the disease.
The agency plans to gather experts’ opinions on the future classification of Covid-19 until Thursday.
“We will continue to stably manage current anti-disease measures and make thorough preparations before recategorizing Covid-19 as a Class 4 disease,” Jee said.
The KDCA commissioner added that it is “unlikely” that Covid-19 would pose “a large threat to our society again,” but also noted the disease “is still not completely endemic” and that large and small waves of the disease are expected to take place once or twice annually in the future.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]