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Return to normal could stop with rise in serious COVID-19 cases: PM

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum (Yonhap)
South Korea could stop its return to normal, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday as the country continued to see a sharp rise in the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients, placing a strain on the supply of medical resources.

Kim said in a meeting Friday that hospital beds across the country must be efficiently managed as they are quickly being filled, impeding a swift medical response for COVID-19 patients. Setting aside more hospital beds and medical resources is a priority for the government, he said.

“There are concerns that our journey to return to normalcy could stop for a while if this crisis cannot be overcome,” Kim said during the meeting with the heads of 22 tertiary hospitals in the Greater Seoul area. “We will improve our hospital bed management system.”

As of Thursday, 78.2 percent of hospital intensive care beds in the capital region were occupied, with the rate for Seoul reaching 80.9 percent. The bed occupancy rate for the whole country was tallied at 63.8 percent.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 499 by Thursday’s end, down seven from a day earlier, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The figure has stayed above 400 since earlier this month, an alarming situation that arose for the first time since the end of August.

The country on Thursday reported 3,034 new cases, 3,011 locally transmitted and 23 imported from overseas, raising the total so far to 409,099. Seoul alone added its second-highest figure of 1,401, and Gyeonggi Province and Incheon added 849 and 188 cases, respectively.

The Greater Seoul area, comprising the three regions, accounted for 80.3 percent of newly added cases reported Thursday.

At the same time, Korea also added 28 more deaths from the infectious disease, raising the death toll to 3,215, while the fatality rate stood at 0.79 percent.

Considering the serious virus situation, Kim said, critically ill patients will be sent to any area with available intensive care beds regardless of where they live. He asked hospital chiefs to hasten the transfer of intensive care patients to normal recovery rooms when their condition improves.

The situation puts Korea’s plans to return to normal at risk. The KDCA had introduced a new five-tier assessment system under which officials determine a social distancing system on a weekly basis. The country was set to move to the second stage in mid-December after a two-week evaluation period.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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