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(LEAD) Critically ill virus patients spiking; sickbed shortage feared

All News 15:37 September 01, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS remarks, details in paras 6-10)

SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- The number of coronavirus patients in serious or critical condition in South Korea has spiked amid a resurgence of new infections, raising concerns about a shortage of hospital beds, health officials said Tuesday.

South Korea reported 235 daily new infections Tuesday, marking the 19th day of triple-digit hikes and raising the total caseload to 20,182, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The number of virus patients in serious or critical condition spiked to 104 on Tuesday, compared with 12 on Aug. 19. Such patients have doubled in four or five days since Aug. 19.

The figure could further rise, along with fatalities, as the number of elderly virus patients continues to increase.

If the spread is not curbed at this point, the number could soar to as high as 130 by Thursday, officials said.

This photo taken by a Yonhap News TV reporter shows medical workers moving a confirmed patient of the new coronavirus to the Kyungpook National University Hospital in Daegu, 302 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Aug. 30, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Of the 104 patients, 86 patients are aged 60 or older and 13 patients are aged 50 to 59, according to the KCDC.

About 63 percent of the 104 patients, or 65 patients, have underlying health conditions.

KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook said it was the first time that the number of coronavirus patients in serious or critical conditions surpassed 100.

It takes seven to 10 days for a coronavirus patient to progress into a serious or critical condition.

Kwon said the number of such patients could rise by Sunday as more than 400 infections were confirmed on Aug. 26 and called for elderly people with underlying conditions to take extra precautions against the virus.

Separately, Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said the number of coronavirus patients aged 60 or older accounted for more than 30 percent of the total cases identified in the past two weeks.

Deaths are much higher among elderly coronavirus patients with underlying health conditions, so they must be admitted to hospitals.

Health authorities have made utmost efforts to secure hospital beds to save the lives of critically ill coronavirus patients, Kim said.

Since early last month, the government has been scrambling to secure more hospital beds.

As of Sunday, health authorities secured a total of 517 hospital beds for coronavirus patients in serious or critical condition, but only 55 of them are available for treatment.

In the metropolitan region, just 16 of 193 hospital beds are available for treatment.

Hospital beds are also running out in other regions. In particular, there are no hospital beds for coronavirus patients in serious or critical condition in Gwangju, Daejeon, Gangwon Province and North and South Jolla Province.

The government plans to secure 40 more hospital beds for coronavirus patients in serious or critical condition by mid-September, officials said.

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