Sunday, February 06, 2022

South Korea & Hong Kong Set New COVID Daily Records

South Korea Daily Cases Credit Our World In Data


Compared to most of the rest of the world, Asia has done a remarkable job in `managing' community spread of COVID.  Face masks have been embraced by many Asian countries for decades during flu season (see Pre-COVID blog HK CDW: Surgical Masks For Respiratory Protection), and governments have been very proactive with COVID testing, and quarantines. 

For the first 18 months of the pandemic (see chart above), South Korea (pop 52 million), kept  daily cases pretty much in the triple digits.   In August of last year, with the relaxation of social distancing rules ( `Living with COVID' policy), the ROK began to see a steady rise in cases. 

In mid-December South Korea set new daily records, reaching 7,500 cases a day briefly, before falling back 50% in January. 

But over the past 30 days (see chart below), with the arrival of the Omicron variant - and despite reimposing some social distancing policies -  cases in South Korea have begun to climb like a homesick angel, shattering December's records by a factor of 5. 

All of which suggests that while not as severe as Delta, Omicron represents its own special challenges. 

While not as dramatic, we are seeing a similar rise in cases in Hong Kong, which maintains one of the strictest `Zero-COVID' policies outside of Mainland China.  Today, they reported another record number of community cases.  

This from China Daily HK:

Hong Kong sees 342 virus cases; untraceable infections reach 320

February 06, 2022

By Wang Zhan

HONG KONG - Hong Kong reported 342 COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with the cumulative total of unlinked cases in the last two weeks reaching 320.

Director of Health Ronald Lam Man-kin said the pandemic situation was in a “critical phase” with cases found all over the territory. Over 300 people also tested preliminarily positive.
“We can see multiple transmission chains in the community. We see cases all over Hong Kong involving people from all walks of life and sectors,” Lam said.

“This is something of unprecedented magnitude. This will really challenge our healthcare system,” he added.
Lam said the districts that have the most number of cases with untraceable sources include Sham Shui Po, Sha Tin, Kowloon City, Kwai Tsing, Wong Tai Sin. He added that 80 percent of unlinked cases were Omicron infections. 

“If one case represents one transmission chain, there are obviously over 320 transmission chains in the community, bearing in mind that one case can spread to more than one person, representing one transmission chain. So, the minimum at least is over 320,” Lam said.

“So, it is a very widespread and severe situation in terms of the spread int he community. It is essential and critically important that we continue to maintain the containment policy,” he added.

(Continue . . . )

The `good news' in all of this is that much of these increases are due to the Omicron variant, which while far from benign, generally produces less severe illness than Delta.  Still, when case number get high enough, they can overburden local healthcare delivery services. 

And Omicron continues to demonstrate its ability to evade prior immunity, and circumvent even the strictest COVID policies, as it spreads uncontrollably around the globe.  

Although the daily reports we get out of Mainland China are so impossibly low as to stretch anyone's credulity (i.e. no one has died of COVID in China in more than a year according to the NHC & daily cases routinely run in the double digits), we tend to get a more realistic view out of Hong Kong, which tries very hard to align their `Zero-COVID' policies to that on the Mainland. 

A `per-capita' comparison between Hong Kong and Mainland China of reported cases and deaths shows Hong Kong's infection rate as 26 times higher than China, and their fatality rate is 9 times higher (see Worldometer data below). 

Regardless of what has really transpired in Mainland China over the past 20 months, the  spike in cases in South Korea, and the recent runaway community transmision of COVID in Hong Kong, both suggest that China's ability to cling to their `Zero-COVID' policies may soon face their biggest challenge.

Between the Winter Olympics, 2022's Lunar New Year, and the inevitable spread of the Omicron variant, February could prove a pivotal month for China in their battle against COVID. 

Assuming China has been largely successful in containing COVID, then acquired community immunity against the virus is likely to be very low.  And while China reports roughly 87% of their population `fully vaccinated', reports suggest their vaccine is no match for Omicron (see HKU Preprint: 2 doses of BioNTech or Sinovac Vaccines are Inadequate Against Omicron Virus Variants).

Of course, China has a long history of treating `bad news' as a national security issue, and so we will likely only get the `sanitized' version.  

But what happens in Hong Kong in the weeks and months ahead - which is pursuing similar policies - should give us some idea of what is happening on the Mainland. 

Stay tuned, and fasten your seatbelts.  It could be a bumpy March.