A new variant of COVID-19 was detected in Japan over the weekend.
Japan’s health ministry said a new variant of the coronavirus was found in four people who arrived from Brazil and that while there are similarities to strains first reported in the UK and South Africa, this particular type does not appear to have been spotted before.
This as global infections climb to top 90 million and the worldwide death toll from Covid surpasses 1.9 million.
The daily tally in South Korea today at 451 the lowest number in a month, but cluster infections continue to pop up leading the nation’s top infectious disease prevention expert to forecast that number to stay in the six to seven hundred next week.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in in his New Year’s address to the Korean people today announced that the country will provide free-of-charge Covid-19 vaccines in phases starting next month.

“We will be able to start vaccinations next month. In accordance with priority, we will make sure all citizens are inoculated, free of charge.”

“We estimate the first vaccine priority group to be roughly between 32 to 36 million people and currently working with local governments, related ministries and associations to discuss the make up and the size of the list.”

All things Covid. Let’s go in-depth.

Live in the studio with me is our go to medical expert, Dr. Alice Tan, Internist at MizMedi Women’s Hospital.

Dr. Tan, it’s great to see you again.

So, let’s start with the daily new cases here in South Korea. 451 – that’s down from the 600s we saw yesterday and the first time we’ve seen the daily tally so low in about a month. Are we seeing the tighter social distancing measures pay off? But we saw more number of deaths today.
Do you think we’re finally seeing the end of this third dark tunnel?

South Korean authorities have hinted at the possibility of easing restrictions at the current level 2.5 plus restrictions expire this weekend. What are some requirements that need to be met for the authorities to relax the level of guidelines and what do you think would be the appropriate adjustments to the social distancing scheme?

In addition to the recent discovery of a variant of the coronavirus out of the U.K., a new variant has been detected in Japan – this time out of Brazil.
Tell us a little more about this new variant. Why are we seeing so many mutations? Should we expect more variants in the coming weeks and months?

I suppose the question is will the emergence of new variants affect our efforts to form herd immunity through vaccination?

Speaking of vaccines, how are we doing with the vaccine rollout, so far? It definitely seems like the distribution of the vaccine is taking longer than expected even for those countries that have managed to secure Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, the South Korean president unveiled plans to offer Covid-19 vaccines to the entire South Korean population free of charge in phases starting next month. The KDCA chief Dr. Jeong Eun-kyeong said those eligible for the first round of vaccination will likely be between 32 to 36 million.
That’s between 60 to 70 percent of the entire population. But, how do we decide who gets first even within that group? Do they all go and get vaccinated at once? How should the government design the scheme so that it’s most efficient and effective?

Will South Korea also face the dilemma of delaying the second doses for those who have already been vaccinated with the first dose to inoculate the rest of the population? We’ve had the time to witness the shortcomings in other countries that have begun the vaccination process first – how do we make sure we don’t run into those problems?

The Lancet published a study that showed signs of ‘long-COVID’ found in virus patients six months after leaving hospital.
76-percent of 1,7-hundred and 33 Covid-19 patients diagnosed in Wuhan had at least one symptom six months after symptom onset; fatigue or muscle weakness and sleep difficulties were the most common symptoms, followed by anxiety or depression. This is quite worrisome. Would you tell us more about this?

It’s customary for the WHO to carry out an investigation on such virus outbreaks as they did for the 2003 Sars outbreak.
Back in July a two-person WHO team failed to visit Wuhan, and Beijing has once again barred the entry of a 10-member WHO team looking to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Other than the obvious reasons of the need to prevent future outbreaks of such a pandemic, why is tracing the source of the virus important?

Meanwhile, on to treatment drugs
In the UK, the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone has already been used to treat patients with COVID-19
Last week, the British government said that two arthritis drugs have shown to be effective in treatment.
A clinical trial shows the two drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – to drop the risk of death by 24-percent in COVID patients.
What is the nature of these arthritis drugs can they contribute to a treatment drug?

Dr. Alice Tan, Internist at the MizMedi Women’s Hospital as always thank you for your insights and expertise. We appreciate it as always.

Reporter : jenmoon@arirang.co.kr

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