(ATTN: UPDATES with latest tally in para 2, throughout)
SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- Most victims of the novel coronavirus quickly spreading across South Korea were elderly people with preexisting health issues and special care is necessary to reduce further virus-related fatalities, health authorities here said Tuesday.
The cases of COVID-19 confirmed on Tuesday brought the nation's total number of infections to 5,186 as of 4:00 p.m., with 31 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Three additional deaths were reported Tuesday in the southeastern city of Daegu, the epicenter of virus outbreak here.
The last 10 deaths occurred during treatment at hospitals in Daegu or in surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, officials said. All the victims had preexisting illnesses and were in their 60's to 80's.
KCDC data showed that the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older was 5.4 percent, compared with an average mortality rate of 0.6 percent.
"Those at most risk are people older than 65 years old with preexisting diseases and the mortality rate for them is exceptionally high," KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong told reporters.
The KCDC said the underlying diseases in 31 death cases vary. Among them are cancer, kidney failure and diabetes, and most of the deceased suffered from at least one preexisting ailment, sometimes two.
Of the 31 deaths, 11 were in aged in their 70's, seven in their 60's and six in their 80's, according to the KCDC.
The country's third COVID-19-related death -- of a man in his 40s in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province -- was the only one involving no underlying health issues, according to the agency.
The KCDC said more than 80 percent of coronavirus cases are not severe and can be fully cured.
To minimize deaths from the virus, the KCDC revised guidelines to allow critically ill patients to be swiftly treated in so-called negative-pressure rooms at hospitals starting Monday.
Thus far, virus patients with mild or moderate symptoms had also been allowed to receive treatment at such facilities, which are designed to prevent infectious diseases from spreading within hospitals.
Patients with mild or moderate symptoms will be admitted to state-run isolation facilities, according to the KCDC.
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