Medical workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at Gangwon National University Hospital. (Yonhap)
Civic and labor groups on Monday urged the government to mobilize more beds and medical personnel from large private hospitals to cope with the worsening hospital bed shortage caused by a recent surge in coronavirus infections.
Public hospitals have received most local COVID-19 patients but have now reached the saturation point, as the number of newly confirmed cases hovers around 1,000 per day. Indeed, the number of available hospital beds in the greater Seoul area dedicated to severely ill coronavirus patients has been reduced to 13 as of Sunday, while more than 500 patients are waiting at home because they have not been assigned a bed at public hospitals or residential treatment centers for mild coronavirus cases.
Against such a backdrop, large private hospitals in Seoul have slightly increased the number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients, while arguing that they cannot be negligent in the treatment of non-coronavirus critical patients. At present, Seoul National University Hospital, Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital and Asan Medical Center are operating 40, six, five and three coronavirus ICU beds, respectively.
But civic activists have stepped up pressure on the large private hospitals to contribute more to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
A group of civic and labor groups, including the Korean Confederation Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, held a joint news conference on the issue in Seoul on Monday.
They said an emergency mobilization of private hospitals' personnel and facilities is now inevitable to solve the ongoing hospital bed shortage for coronavirus patients.
"The government is still relying on public hospitals for the settlement of the crisis without mobilizing private hospitals that account for about 90 percent of the nation's entire hospital beds," the groups said, noting the United States and European countries are mobilizing both private and public hospitals.
"In Seoul alone, there are more than 10 excellent private general hospitals with more than 2,000 beds each in addition to several dozens of hospitals with more than 300 beds each. If the private hospitals are mobilized even now, the bed shortage crisis may not be at a serious level," they said.
The organizations then asked the government to issue an emergency mobilization order for the large private hospitals under the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, while urging the private hospitals to fully carry out their social responsibility.
Amid growing concerns over hospital bed shortages, five local megachurches have offered to provide their facilities as residential treatment centers for new coronavirus patients and those under isolation.
The combined number of rooms provided by the churches -- Yoido Full Gospel Church, Myungsung Church, SaRang Church, Kwanglim Church and Kangnam Joongang Baptist Church -- total 890. Most of them are located in the greater Seoul area.
The churches made the decision in line with a suggestion by the ruling Democratic Party, according to Yoido Full Gospel Church.
South Korea added 718 more COVID-19 cases, including 682 local infections, on Monday after reporting its largest daily caseload ever of 1,030 cases on Sunday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. (Yonhap)