56.3% of COVID-19 cases in Korea last week were stealth Omicron

Posted on : 2022-03-29 17:10 KST Modified on : 2022-03-29 17:10 KST
The prevalence of the BA.2 subvariant may slow the COVID-19 case decline in South Korea
A COVID-19 screening station at Tapgol Park appears to have fewer test-seekers than usual at around 9 am on March 28. (Yonhap News)
A COVID-19 screening station at Tapgol Park appears to have fewer test-seekers than usual at around 9 am on March 28. (Yonhap News)

The BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, also known as “stealth Omicron,” was detected in 56.3% of COVID-19 cases in South Korea last week, making it the dominant strain in the country. Disease control authorities project that although the current COVID-19 wave’s peak has passed, case numbers will fall slowly due to the high number of BA.2 cases, considered highly transmissible.

South Korea saw 187,213 new COVID-19 cases as of the end of the day Sunday, the daily case count falling under 200,000 for the first time since March 3, when the country recorded 198,799 cases. Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-cheol, who serves as the first deputy director of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, said during a Monday meeting, “The Omicron wave has passed its peak after 11 weeks and is transitioning to being on a declining trajectory.”

Experts agreed that South Korea will start to see a drop in new COVID-19 cases. According to data from the Central Disease Control Headquarters (CDCH), for which 11 domestic and foreign research institutes conducted studies from March 15 to March 23 forecasting the COVID-19 wave in South Korea, nine research institutes said the current COVID-19 wave in the country will subside within one week. Among those nine institutes, six projected that daily caseloads will fall below 300,000 within two weeks. Additionally, out of the seven institutes that predicted the COVID-19 situation for the next four weeks, four anticipated daily caseloads to fall below 200,000 within the time period.

How fast COVID-19 will continue to spread is directly correlated to the BA.2 subvariant’s share of caseloads. During the third week of March, the BA.2 subvariant was detected in 56.3% of all cases for the week, which was a 33.4-percentage-point increase from the subvariant’s detection rate in the first week of March (22.9%).

During Monday’s regular briefing of the CDCH, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong explained, “The detection rate of the BA.2 subvariant has increased, which has made the subvariant the dominant strain, and even after [the current COVID-19 wave’s] peak, caseloads may fall slowly due to increased in-person instruction in schools, increased private gatherings, and stagnant vaccination numbers.”

Disease control authorities were not too optimistic about the speed with which the current COVID-19 will subside due to the high transmissibility of the BA.2 subvariant and the ongoing BA.2 wave in other countries. The BA.2 subvariant is considered 1.3 to 1.5 times more transmissible than the original Omicron variant. Moreover, symptoms from the subvariant manifest on average 0.5 days more quickly compared to symptoms from the Omicron variant.

Still, Jeong stated, “We think [the BA.2 subvariant] doesn’t significantly affect [the efficacy of] vaccines or treatments, and there haven’t been reports that it results in more severe cases.”

By Kwon Ji-dam, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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