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Korea may start charging passengers arriving with COVID-19

Deputy director Kwon Jun-wook of KCDC (KCDC)
Deputy director Kwon Jun-wook of KCDC (KCDC)

South Korean health officials said Tuesday they may start charging passengers arriving with COVID-19 for medical expenses, if the coronavirus influx continues to place a strain on the medical capacity.

Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said in a regular closed-door briefing that the government may have to start asking arriving patients to pay parts of their medical bills, should the pandemic persist. Under the current regulations, the government covers all of the treatment and testing costs for confirmed patients.

“Accumulating cases could pose a burden on the state health insurance system. Covering all of the costs may not prove sustainable in the long run,” he said.

According to the National Health Insurance Service, treating a COVID-19 patient costs around 3.31 million won to 70 million won, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Since June 26, the number of cases tied to international travel has remained in the double digits, accounting for nearly 60 percent of all cases reported over the period. Health authorities say the travel-related cases are projected to keep up due to the worsening coronavirus situation abroad. The global coronavirus count has topped over 14 million, according to the World Health Organization’s latest data.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said over half or 25 of the 45 new cases reported in the last 24 hours ending midnight Monday were imported. Eighteen of them were detected at airport checkpoints, with the other seven diagnosed while in quarantine.

The number of community transmission cases in Korea shot up to 20 on Tuesday, on the back of an infection cluster found at a nursing home in Seoul, after dropping to a two-month low the previous day. Since the first case was confirmed Sunday, a total of nine people at the nursing home in the city’s southwest have tested positive.

The disease control agency’s deputy chief Kwon Jun-wook sounded alarms over the disease spreading at homes for older adults who are more vulnerable to the infections. The fatality rate for those 80 or older is 25 percent.

“In the last two months, 113 cases have been confirmed at 10 homes for elderly, leaving eight dead,” he said, urging adherence to physical distancing for those visiting or working with the residents. The government allowed visits to nursing homes last month under strict guidelines, temporarily lifting the restrictions put in place since March.

Korea has tested 1,482,390 people so far to find 13,816 people who are infected. A total of 12,643 people, or 91.5 percent of the infected, have been released from care after recovering, with 877 patients still undergoing treatment. Of those tests, 1,444,710 people, or 97.4 percent of all tested, returned negative results and 23,864 are currently awaiting results.

Two more patients fell seriously ill, putting the number of severe cases at 21. Some 76 patients have been administered with remdesivir, an experimental antiviral known to hasten recovery.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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