(3rd LD) S. Korea struggles to secure more hospital beds, medical staff amid spiking virus cases
(ATTN: UPDATES with more info and tally in last 3 paras)
SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's health authorities said Friday that they are making utmost efforts to secure more health care workers and hospital beds in the southeastern city of Daegu, the local epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak, where more than 1,300 virus patients have been reported.
Out of the confirmed 1,314 COVID-19 patients in the country's fourth-largest city, only 634 had been admitted to hospitals and another 680 were awaiting hospital beds while in self-quarantine at their homes as of early Friday, according to city government officials.
Daegu, population 2.4 million, has emerged as a hotbed of the coronavirus in South Korea, along with neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, which has seen 394 virus cases alone.
Concerns over a possible shortage of hospital beds in the hardest-hit regions escalated after a 75-year-old virus patient who is tied to a religious sect in Daegu died of respiratory failure earlier Thursday, bringing the nation's death toll to 13.
The patient, despite having underlying diseases, was in self-quarantine at home and died while awaiting admission to a local hospital.
"It is our principle to designate critical COVID-19 patients to hospitals that can provide intensive-care treatment," said Jeong Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A total of 853 medical staff, including 58 doctors, have volunteered to go to Daegu to help contain the current outbreak.
"The government will not only provide financial compensation for medical staff who have volunteered to participate in preferential COVID-19 virus testing in the Daegu region but also ... praise their efforts for the local community," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said in a daily briefing.
Health authorities also said they will first provide 47,000 protective suits and 77,000 facial masks for the medical staff working in the region.
The KCDC said it has provided guidelines so that doctors can swiftly allocate hospital beds to patients in accordance with the severity of the disease and move serious patients to negative-pressure isolation wards.
As of Thursday, South Korea had 1,077 negative-pressure isolation rooms, which facilitate the treatment of patients with infectious diseases while minimizing the risk of cross-contamination.
As such facilities have been overwhelmed in Daegu, big hospitals in Seoul have said they will accept virus patients who are in critical condition as well.
The city government of Daegu and the provincial government of South Gyeongsang said they will operate COVID-19-only hospitals amid concerns that the country may soon run out of space at negative-pressure isolation wards.
A nursing hospital for seniors in Daegu and another midsized hospital in the central city of Cheonan will now only treat coronavirus patients.
The country reported 517 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, marking the largest daily increase, to bring the total number of infections here to 2,337. So far, 13 people have died of the disease.
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