(ATTN: ADDS info in paras 4-7, 9-10)
SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- The surge in the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus here is starting to cause serious fatigue among medical personnel, with manpower shortages becoming an issue in some hard-hit areas.
Fatigue among medical staff has been most acute at hospitals designated to handle coronavirus patients only. The large number of patients in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province -- the epicenters of the virus outbreak in South Korea -- has exacerbated the problem.
After reporting its first outbreak on Jan. 20, the total number of infected patients had surged to 4,212 as of early Monday, with the death toll hitting 22. Of the total, 3,081 have been confirmed in Daegu alone, with 624 cases in North Gyeongsang. There were 377 and 68 new cases reported in the two areas, respectively, on Monday morning.
Pohang Medical Center said over the weekend that 16 of its 100 nurses have quit due to various personal and work-related reasons.
The medical center, in the industrial city of Pohang, 375 kilometers southeast of Seoul, said some nurses have not been able to go home for over 10 days, as clinical staff at specially designated hospitals are required to stay at their posts till the situation improves. It said some nurses who have no one to look after their young children had no choice but to resign.
A health ministry official said the nurses did not resign just because they were struggling with the viral infection but were already set to leave in January and February.
"They had actually decided to stay on a few more weeks to help remaining colleagues till the arrivals of their replacements this month," he stressed.
The medical center did get 15 replacement nurses, and Pohang city government promised to send 10 medical personnel and administrative support workers. It is on guard for further manpower problems down the line as COVID-19 continues to spread.
The need for more medical personnel was also reported at Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in Daegu, where the hospital said it was seriously understaffed, with existing doctors and nurses suffering from severe fatigue.
Dongsan insiders said its 230 medical staff have been working 12 hours a day without rest for two weeks straight and are fatigued.
"In particular, the center needs more nurses, as it is planning to increase the number of beds from 240 to 300 to handle more patients," the hospital said.
Other hospitals treating coronavirus patients, such as Kyungpook National University Hospital, Yeungnam University Medical Center and Catholic University Medical Center, all in Daegu, as well as Andong Medical Center in North Gyeongsang, raised concerns about their overly tired medical staff and the need for more people as they prepare to receive additional patients.
Reflecting the problems facing frontline medical centers and hospitals, the country is attempting to deal with the issue by sending more state employed doctors and other trained health workers to hard-hit places.
As of Sunday, 205 doctors and nurses had been dispatched to Daegu, including 67 public health and military doctors and 123 nurses as well as other medical specialists. Health authorities also said private doctors from other parts of the country have volunteered to help out at hospitals in the region.
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