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Disinfection requests surge as coronavirus spreads

Demand increases threefold, companies concerned about shortage of equipment

Gangdong Health Center officials fumigate the entrance to an apartment in a neighborhood near Myungsung Church, where a pastor and other church members are quarantined, in Gangdong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Gangdong Health Center officials fumigate the entrance to an apartment in a neighborhood near Myungsung Church, where a pastor and other church members are quarantined, in Gangdong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Disinfection service companies are seeing a threefold spike in fumigation requests as the new coronavirus continues to spread, according to the industry on Wednesday.

But with COVID-19 cases increasing in regional communities across the country, the disinfection companies are slogging away to meet the soaring demand.

“Before the first confirmed case (of the new coronavirus) came up, we would have around five disinfection jobs a day. But now, we get some 30 orders every day,” Lim Tae-ho, who operates Adam Clean, a cleaning and disinfection agency, told The Korea Herald.

“Even if we get so many orders, we can’t do them all because we have limited staff. I believe the situation is similar for other companies,” added Lim.

Hong Won-soo, chairman of the Korea Pest Control Association, told The Korea Herald that the industry is seeing a more than 300 percent increase in orders for facility disinfection services since the COVID-19 outbreak started.

In a joint statement Feb. 6, the Korean Medical Association and the KPCA explained that proper fumigation can kill the new coronavirus 99.9 percent, and that a contaminated facility can be used 24 hours after disinfection.

With the fear growing about the speed at which the epidemic is spreading, an increasing number of individuals are also making inquiries about fumigation of their own homes.

“There was not a single request for fumigation from a household before. But now, we take on at least one or two cases a day, and there are many such inquiries being made from individual homes,” Lim said.

On online communities, people are seen asking for recommendations for disinfection service providers, while others share their own experiences.

“We have many children, so I had my house fumigated yesterday. It was 150,000 won ($123) for a 99-square-meter apartment,” an online user on a Naver shopping community said in a post on Saturday.

Disinfection methods vary depending on the size of the place and the building, and the disinfectants are certified by the government.

Local volunteers are seen fumigating the entrance to a kindergarten in Dongdaemun, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Local volunteers are seen fumigating the entrance to a kindergarten in Dongdaemun, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Amid the fumigation boom, the prices of the equipment and disinfectants needed are going up, and companies worry about shortages.

The companies providing disinfection services are usually cleaning and pest control businesses, and because epidemics like this are not everyday situations, they usually keep only enough disinfection equipment for emergencies, Hong explained.

“At normal times, we can just make an order and the equipment would be delivered right away. The companies did stock up on some after experiencing the Middle East respiratory syndrome crisis, but it is not enough,” Hong said.

Experts and industry observers say COVID-19 appears to be more contagious than MERS, which involved 186 infections and 38 deaths in Korea in 2015.

MERS transmission occurred largely in medical institutions, but COVID-19 appears to be spreading faster, leading to buildings and facilities being closed down.

On Monday, the KPCA sent an official letter to the Ministry of Health and Welfare for smooth circulation of the equipment, and the ministry is checking on the supply situation, the association said.

South Korea’s Environment Ministry has identified four types of disinfectants that can be used to kill the coronavirus -- sodium hypochlorite, alcohol (70 percent), phenolic compounds, quaternary ammonium compound and peroxide compound. Based on that, there are 28 disinfectants certified by the ministry.

Disinfection service workers are required to wear disposable protective gear, including gloves, coveralls, shoe covers, face masks and goggles. But while the sprayers can be reused after sterilization, the protective gear must be disposed of after it has been used once.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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