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(LEAD) Virus death toll hits 200, seniors with underlying diseases most at risk: KCDC

All News 13:33 April 08, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS official's remarks and more info in paras 5, 14)

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 200, and most virus victims are elderly patients with underlying diseases, health authorities here said Wednesday.

An additional eight patients died of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the country's fatality number to 200, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The country added 53 new cases, bring total virus cases to 10,384 as of Wednesday. The country reported its first death from the novel coronavirus on Feb. 20 and breached the 100 mark on March 22.

Most of the victims have been elderly patients with underlying illnesses, such as cancer and pneumonia.

Medical staffers use bandages to cover wounds on their faces caused by wearing protective goggles for long hours while treating coronavirus patients at Dongsan Hospital in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

KCDC data showed the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older stood at 20.43 percent as of Tuesday, compared with an average mortality rate of 1.93 percent.

The mortality rate of COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older was a mere 3.7 percent on March 2 when health authorities began conducting such a tally but increased to 10 percent on March 20 and breached the 20 percent level as of Tuesday, the KCDC said.

Health authorities said the fatality rate among elders is relatively high due to massive cluster cases at nursing hospitals where patients with underlying diseases, such as dementia, have been treated.

"Diagnosis is relatively slower at nursing hospitals, which could lead to a higher mortality rate," said Kim Woo-ju, an infectious disease specialist at Seoul's Korea University Hospital.

For those between the ages of 70 and 79, the fatality rate came to 8.67 percent. For those between the ages of 60 and 69, the rate sank to 2.06 percent, according to the KCDC.

The fatality rate of male coronavirus patients came to 2.55 percent compared with 1.51 percent for female patients, the KCDC said.

The daily number of COVID-19 patients under serious condition has remained between 70 and 80 over the past week, after hovering under 20 in February and reaching a record high of 94 on March 21, the KCDC said.

The number slightly decreased to the 70 level in late March and rose again to 80 in April, the KCDC said.

Health authorities said the average mortality rate can be decreased only when focusing on treating COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms.

To reduce virus fatalities, the country's health authorities have implemented a "two-track" system for the treatment of virus patients. Those with mild symptoms are to visit designated virus treatment centers, while only people with severe symptoms go to hospitals, so that medical staff can secure more beds for patients that need intensive care.

"It is a positive sign that the number of new confirmed cases remains around 50 this week," said Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip, adding that providing suitable care for COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms will be possible if this trend continues.

khj@yna.co.kr
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