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(LEAD) Hospital bed shortage looms as virus cases spike

All News 10:42 August 25, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figures in paras 2, 5, 12)

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- Concerns are mounting over a possible hospital bed shortage in South Korea as new daily virus cases are increasing at alarming rates, with those patients in critical conditions on an upward path, experts said Tuesday.

Since Aug. 14, the country's daily COVID-19 cases have been in the triple digits, with a whopping 3,175 new cases reported across the nation over the past 12 days. On Tuesday, South Korea reported 280 additional cases of the virus, raising the nation's total caseload to 17,945.

Stoking fears is the high rate of elderly patients among the newly confirmed cases.

A medical worker checks body temperatures at a hospital in Seoul on Aug. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

Of the patients identified from Aug. 9-22, 773, or 32 percent, were aged 60 or older, mostly traced to a conservative church in northern Seoul and an anti-government march on Aug. 15 Liberation Day.

The number of patients in critical condition also rose by six to 38 on Tuesday, with the figure expected to rise further. On Aug. 18, the comparable figure stood at nine.

The latest uptick in the number of new infections has set alarm bells ringing, as they were mostly reported from Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province, home to half of the country's 51 million people.

In Gyeonggi Province, the bed utilization rate for coronavirus patients came to 97 percent Monday, with 554 of 571 beds at 14 hospitals occupied.

Medical workers wearing protective gear prepare to carry out tests for the new coronavirus at a makeshift clinic of Konyang University Hospital in the central city of Daejeon on Aug. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

The government is operating community treatment centers to treat mild cases, with plans to open six more that can house around 2,000 patients in the Seoul metropolitan area, but concerns persist.

"We are witnessing an actual shortage of hospital beds following a spike in the number of COVID-19 patients," Lim Seung-kwan, a senior Gyeonggi official, said. "While community treatment centers are in fact a complement, they cannot be a perfect substitute for hospitals."

Also a strain on the authorities' fight against the virus is the ongoing strike by doctors over the government's medical workforce reform scheme.

Interns and residents at major general hospitals have been staging an indefinite walkout nationwide since last week, calling for the government to scrap its plan to increase admission quotas at medical schools.

On Tuesday, South Korea also reported one more fatality from the virus, raising the death toll to 310.


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