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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 4)

All News 09:05 April 04, 2020

Hospitals as loopholes
Mass infections continue, requiring drastic measures

The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients here surpassed 10,000, Friday, 74 days after the first South Korean was infected in the outbreak, Jan. 20.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) confirmed 86 new infections on the day, bringing the country's total to 10,062. The death toll rose by five to 174.

Thankfully, the spread of the new coronavirus has slowed as citizens and companies are complying well with the government's "social distancing" guidelines, and the administration has toughened measures to prevent possible transmission from people coming from abroad. Still, infection clusters are continuously being reported at hospitals and churches. Additional measures are definitely needed for these places.

In particular, mass infections at hospitals could be more disastrous because the fatality rate for those diagnosed with the new coronavirus is much higher for patients suffering from other diseases. Hospitals have been at the forefront of this battle against COVID-19, but it is true that infection clusters there are making the fight harder.

As of Friday morning, 30 cases were confirmed just at St. Mary's Hospital in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. A nine-year-old girl hospitalized at the Asan Medical Center (AMC) in Seoul, one of the country's biggest hospitals with 2,700 beds, tested positive for the coronavirus, Tuesday. She is believed to have been infected with the virus while receiving treatment at St. Mary's Hospital before being transferred to AMC.

As of yet, there are no additional cases reported at AMC, but it cannot be ruled out that it could turn into a new infection cluster. Fifty doctors, nurses and hospital workers who came into contact with the girl and her parents have been quarantined, hampering the operation of the hospital. Previously, cluster infections were also reported at Eunpyeong St. Mary's Hospital in Seoul, and Bundang Jesaeng Hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

During the past two weeks, about 35 percent of cases reported in Seoul and the greater capital area were at hospitals, according to the KCDC. The dilemma is that the authorities have no choice but to take limited measures against hospitals although there have been infection clusters there. In case of churches, municipal governments have implemented administrative measures to ban gatherings and punish those violating preventive guidelines after some churches became new infection clusters. However, they cannot close hospitals just because infections were discovered at some of them.

What is clear is that it is impossible to overcome the virus if hospitals remain loopholes. It is necessary for the government to demand hospitals implement more drastic preventive measures while covering losses caused by these. Of course, they should not discourage hospitals. What is equally important is to draw up comprehensive support measures for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.

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