‘Outbreak will stop when 60% of Koreans become immune to COVID-19’

Kim Yun-mi  Published 2020.03.24  16:19  Updated 2020.03.24 16:19


The ongoing spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) will stop when 60 percent of the Korean population becomes immune to the virus, on the assumption that one infected person transmits the virus to 2.5 people, experts said.

The government’s containment policy has limitations, and social consensus is needed to determine whether to shift the strategy to focus on mitigation, they noted.

The Central Clinical Committee for Emerging Disease Control, composed of physicians and experts treating COVID-19 patients in the nation, held a news conference at the National Medical Center on Monday to assess the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Korea.

Oh Myung-don (second from right), head of the Central Clinical Committee for Emerging Disease Control, speaks at a news conference at the National Medical Center on Monday.

Oh Myung-don, head of the clinical committee, said the government’s containment efforts faced limitations and that social members need to build consensus on shifting the policy to mitigation.

“There are two ways to enhance group immunity. One is to generate an antibody through a vaccine, and the other is to earn natural immunity after infection and recovery,” Oh said. “As completing COVID-19 vaccine development within this year seems almost impossible, the Korean government has been using social distancing to block human-to-human contacts and stop the source of the virus infection.”

Oh said Korea’s R0, or an estimated reproductive rate of how many people may contract the virus from one infected person, was believed to be around 2.5, and the nation can stop the outbreak only when R0 goes down below 1.

“Therefore, if 60 percent of the population has immunity against the virus, the outbreak will be stopped,” he said.

Now is the crucial timing to build a social consensus to determine whether to maintain containment efforts or change the policy to focus on mitigation, he added.

If Korea can block the source of infections until the end, it will be okay. However, the nation can’t help but consider social and economic costs caused by rigorous quarantine, Oh noted.

He also warned that COVID-19 cases could surge in the autumn.

“The Spanish flu had five times more spread in the second-phase infections than the initial one. We should not let down our guard,” he said.

Oh went on to say that reopening of schools in two weeks meant the government would gradually ease the quarantine policy. The nation needed to understand how school reopening will affect children and families and prepare for measures, he said.

He also called on the government to discuss with educational institutions to draw up measures to prevent the virus spread, before schools open on April 6.

“To brace for a surge in new COVID-19 patients in the autumn, healthcare professionals need to stock up supplies such as masks and secure sufficient medical resources such as ventilators to treat severe patients,” Oh added.

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