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Conglomerates mobilize coporate facilities to ease sickbed shortage


SK Group's employee training center in Incheon. (Yonhap)
SK Group's employee training center in Incheon. (Yonhap)
While South Korea reels under the third wave of COVID-19 infections and its consequences, leading conglomerates here are making gestures to alleviate the top priority dilemma for health authorities -- the shortage of sickbeds and medical facilities.

SK Group, the country’s third-largest conglomerate in assets, said Thursday that its decision-making body SUPEX Council has donated 12 billion won ($11 million) to the Community Chest of Korea.

The latest contribution not only came as part with the group’s regular year-end donation -- an accumulated 176 billion won since 1999 -- but also in line with its expanded scheme to enhance the social safety net amid the epidemic crisis, officials said.

Since late November, the group has been providing several of its employee training centers in the Gyeonggi region as recovery centers for relatively mild coronavirus patients. The 265 rooms are located in SK Academy in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, SK Telecom’s human resource development institute in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, and the SK Institute in Incheon.

The facilities had also been provided as temporary residential spaces for those in mandatory self-quarantine in March and August, when the country underwent the first and second epidemic wave.

The country’s fourth-largest conglomerate LG Group similarly has been providing its human resource training center in Icheon as a medical facility for asymptomatic or mild patients, starting Dec. 10. The available 229 rooms are fully equipped with in-room bathrooms, making it convenient for both patients and medical staff, officials said.

LG had earlier offered its staff dormitory in North Gyeongsang Province’s Gumi as a medical treatment center in March, when the first mass outbreak swept across Daegu and the nearby North Gyeongsang areas.

Also, the group’s key affiliate LG Electronics had developed electronic masks based on air purifier technology and donated 2,000 of them to Severance Hospital in Seoul, in a move to support the medical staff working under a heavy load.

Hyundai Motor Group turned its employee training center in Gyeongju into a temporary hospital ward for the infected in the surrounding area, in a joint project with North Gyeongsang Provice, Daegu City and Ulsan City.

The center can accommodate around 500 patients maximum, given that double or triple occupancy may be allowed if there are shortages, said Ulsan City, adding that the first group of mild patients were hospitalized there on Wednesday.

As the institute is located at a 25-minute drive from Ulsan University Hospital, it is expected to serve as a useful back-up medical facility for patients with mild symptoms that could possibly become serious cases.

While North Gyeongsang Province will take charge of the general management of the facility, Daegu and Ulsan will respectively provide fiscal support and supply necessary resources, officials said.

Currently, greater Seoul -- which includes the nearby Incheon and Gyeonggi Province -- is under Level 2.5 social distancing, the second highest level of the five-tier alert system. Other areas throughout the country are under Level 2.

Health authorities reported 1,014 additional coronavirus cases on Thursday, the second four-digit figure in two days.

“For now, securing sickbeds is the top priority for virus prevention and control (instead of hastily adopting the Level 3 step),” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Wednesday at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.

The top official’s stern call came amid alarming news that the metropolitan region is running out of sickbeds and that the government may soon be forced to further tighten quarantine measures.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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