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Rising number of COVID-19 patients waiting for hospital care in Korea

So far in November at least six people have died before they could be admitted

Portable negative pressure wards for housing COVID-19 patients are set up outside a public hospital in Seoul. (Yonhap)
Portable negative pressure wards for housing COVID-19 patients are set up outside a public hospital in Seoul. (Yonhap)

More than 800 patients with COVID-19 in Seoul were waiting for hospital beds for more than a day on Saturday, as infections continue to rise at record levels amid the country’s phased exit from pandemic restrictions.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare data, the number of patients waiting for a bed to open up for longer than a day rose to 804 on Saturday at midnight from 659 seen the day prior. More than half, or 478, of them had been waiting for more than two days, and 421 were aged 70 years and older.

When the return to normal scheme kicked off Nov. 1, no patients were waiting for beds.

Saturday’s count of patients without a bed is higher than the figure reported in December last year, when a series of outbreaks at nursing homes led to a spike in hospitalizations. At that time around 600 patients were waiting to be admitted to care at a time at most.

Korea counted more than 3,000 daily cases for the fifth consecutive day on Sunday, despite fewer tests taking place over the weekend. In the past week, 2,832 cases were logged per day on average, up from the previous week’s average of around 2,220.

In the past week, 24 people lost their lives to COVID-19 on average. One week ago, the average was 19 daily deaths.

So far this month, at least six patients died while still waiting for treatment as hospitals run out of beds, the ministry data showed.

Since Wednesday, the number of patients classified as having severe or critical COVID-19 hovered above 500, occupying roughly 66 percent of all intensive care beds nationwide. In Seoul, 82 percent of intensive care beds were full. Just 52 intensive care beds remained available in all of the capital city as of Sunday.

Previously, the ministry had proposed an intensive care bed occupancy rate of 75 percent as the threshold for pausing the return to normal plans and restoring social distancing requirements and other curbs.

By Kim Arin (