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(LEAD) Critically ill virus patients surge amid slowdown in new cases

All News 13:09 September 03, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with press briefing, more info in paras 11, 13-16)

SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) -- The number of coronavirus patients in critical condition continued to rise Thursday amid a slowdown in new infections, putting health authorities on alert over a possible hospital bed shortage and more fatalities.

South Korea added 195 new COVID-19 cases on the day, raising the total caseload to 20,644. It marked the first time the figure fell to below 200 in more than two weeks since Aug. 17.

Yet the number of patients in serious or critical condition rose to 154, up 31 from 123 reported the previous day. The comparable figure stood at just 12 two weeks ago.

The number of critically ill virus patients has been on the rise -- surpassing the 100 mark for the first time on Tuesday -- in line with the recent resurgence in the number of infections across the country.

The figure is feared to climb further as the vast majority of cases recently confirmed were elderly patients who are more vulnerable to the disease.

Of the patients newly confirmed Wednesday, 39 percent were age 60 or older.

As of Wednesday, 87 percent of seriously ill virus patients were age 60 or older.

Medical staff members work at a hospital in Seoul on Sept. 2, 2020, after an employee tested positive for the new coronavirus. At least 10 new cases have been traced to the hospital so far. (Yonhap)

Deaths are also higher among elderly virus patients with underlying health conditions.

South Korea added three more deaths Thursday, raising the death toll to 329.

Of the total, 20 deaths were reported in the past two weeks.

South Korea had kept the virus situation under control until early August. But the daily new infections have been in the triple digits since Aug. 14, mostly traced to a conservative church in northern Seoul and an anti-government rally in the capital on Aug. 15 Liberation Day. The figure soared to a near six-month high of 441 on Aug. 27.

Amid concerns over a possible hospital bed shortage, the government said it will secure more beds, injecting a total 105.4 billion won (US$88.7 million) into 23 medical institutions by the first half of next year.

The government has secured 320 more beds for virus patients in the capital area and seeks to add 77 more by Friday, health officials said, as the recent outbreaks were centered on the region, home to half of the country's 51 million population.

Of the 195 cases newly reported Thursday, 148, or 76 percent, were from either Seoul, its surrounding Gyeonggi Province or nearby Incheon.

For critically ill patients, the government plans to add 100 more hospital beds by the end of the month.

"The severity of patients' conditions could worsen in the coming days among those recently confirmed with the virus in the capital region," Lee Chang-jun, a health official, said during a regular press briefing.

"We are keeping our guard up and trying to secure more hospital beds for critically ill patients as soon as possible."

As of Wednesday, 73 percent of the critically ill virus patients were in the Seoul metropolitan region, with only nine among 306 hospital beds for such patients available.

The emergency room of the Masan Medical Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, is closed on Aug. 22, 2020, after one of the hospital's nurses tested positive for the coronavirus. (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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