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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 11)

All News 06:55 March 11, 2020

New clusters of infections
Do more to protect hospitals from virus

It is still too early to predict the trajectory of the novel coronavirus in South Korea. Yet the decline in the number of new infections here is an encouraging sign. This is in contrast with the trend of the epidemic's rapid spread throughout the world.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 131 newly confirmed cases Tuesday, raising the total number of infections to 7,513. The number of new cases was the lowest in two weeks, after the daily increases peaked at more than 500 last week. But the figures do not mean that the worst is over.

The slowdown was attributed to a falling number of new cases in Daegu, the epicenter of the new coronavirus in Korea, and its surrounding regions in North Gyeonsang Province. After tests were almost completed among the 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a hotbed of COVID-19 infections, the spiking trend reversed.

Nevertheless, it is not the time for complacency. Fears are still growing about new clusters of infections in Seoul and metropolitan areas. Infections in hospitals and crowded places and facilities are emerging as new sources of the epidemic. Therefore we should not lower our guard against the virus.

One of those worrisome cluster infections took place at an insurance company's call center with about 700 workers in Sindorim, in Guro-gu, southwestern Seoul. Sxity employees and four family members have so far tested positive for the coronavirus.

The incident is a reminder that the virus could spread far in any confined space such as at cram schools and study rooms. Thus, the health authorities should go the extra mile to step up disinfection measures in places where people gather and are vulnerable to mass infection.

Hospital infections are also a big cause for concern. A number of hospitals have stopped seeing outpatients or have shut down operations because confirmed cases took place in their facilities. Some patients and medical staff have been infected due to their exposure to the virus there.

A case in point was the temporary closure of the Catholic University of Korea Eunpyeong St. Mary Hospital in northwestern Seoul. The hospital resumed operation Monday after a 17-day shutdown which was prompted by a worker's positive test result. Fourteen patients were presumed to have contracted COVID-19.

Bundang Jesaeng Hospital in the satellite town of Bundang, south of Seoul, closed its emergency room and stopped treating outpatients because of an outbreak. Those infected with the virus rose to 13, including six inpatients and six nurses.

Inje University Seoul Paik Hospital in central Seoul has also closed its emergency room temporarily since Sunday when a 78-year-old patient was confirmed to have contracted the virus. The patient from Daegu triggered a controversy because she lied to doctors about her place of residence and other details, including her contact with Shincheonji members.

The authorities should pull out all the stops to prevent any recurrence of virus infections in hospitals. It goes without saying that hospital infections could lead to the halting of medical services and in a worse case scenario the disruption of the healthcare system.

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