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Government takes steps to enhance accessibility to face masks and hospital beds

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun holds a meeting of the government COVID-19 response group in Daegu on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun holds a meeting of the government COVID-19 response group in Daegu on Wednesday. (Yonhap)



Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun pledged Wednesday to mobilize all available resources for intensive disinfection measures to stabilize the coronavirus-hit Daegu within four weeks.

“The government will mobilize all resources and means in order not to lose the prime timing (to contain the virus),” Chung said while presiding over a meeting of the government anti-disaster headquarters for the first time in the city.

From Tuesday, Chung has been staying in the southeastern city of Daegu, which has been hit hardest in Korea by the outbreak of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday morning, Daegu reported 677 cases while neighboring North Gyeongsang Province confirmed 267 cases of the virus. There were just 202 other confirmed cases nationwide.

“This week is a critical juncture that will decide the success or failure of (the government’s) COVID-19 countermeasures,” Chung said.

With the snowballing infections, ministries have mapped out plans to provide medical care for patients and adjust distribution channels to increase access to sanitary products in high demand.

Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip said Wednesday that the government plans to secure a total of 1,600 beds to accommodate virus-infected patients in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province by March 1.

As designated hospitals for the treatment of cases in the area, including Kyungpook National University Hospital and Daegu Medical Center, run short of beds, more beds in other nearby regions will become available for patients.

“We decided to take measures to expedite hospitalization procedure, such as dispatching more personnel who are exclusively responsible for each hospital, in order to help the people who had to wait for hospitalization even after testing positive,” Kim said.

From Thursday, 5 million facial masks, half of the total of daily domestic production, becomes available to consumers through state-run or public retailers such as the Korea Post, Nonghyup and pharmacies.

The government will supply 1 million protective masks to Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province after consulting with providers.

“The stock that will be sold by public retailers will be offered to special disaster areas and medically necessary places first and then will be released to vulnerable groups and vulnerable workplaces,” Food and Drug Safety Minister Lee Eui-kyung said at a press briefing.

Under a special rule, effective from Wednesday until April 30, the government will limit mask exports to a maximum of 10 percent of total output.

Such measures are designed to cope with skyrocketing demand for sanitary products that have led to the hoarding and reselling of face masks in illegal profiteering.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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