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[Newsmaker] S. Korea to add hospital beds, medical workers and testing centers to counter COVID-19 surge

Health care workers check a COVID-19 patient at a local hospital,Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Monday. (Yonhap)
Health care workers check a COVID-19 patient at a local hospital,Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Monday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in on Monday ordered the government to secure additional COVID-19 hospital beds, health care workers and testing centers to counter the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“The government will take extraordinary measures to secure enough medical capacity” to counter the resurgence of cases, Moon said in a statement released by Cheong Wa Dae.

Moon also ordered concerned government agencies to designate additional public hospitals for exclusive care of COVID-19 patients.

The president also ordered public hospitals to increase the number of wards that can handle critically ill COVID-19 patients as well, while asking state-led agencies to dispatch public health care workers -- including medical officers -- to hospitals and medical centers that are short-handed.

While asking for private hospitals to voluntarily join the government’s plan to increase medical capacity for the coronavirus, Moon promised to compensate for financial damages that hospitals may experience by repurposing their medical capacities.

The president’s order came after the country continues to report high numbers of COVID-19 cases, particularly critically ill patients.

The number of new critically ill patients came to 997 as of midnight Sunday, down from an all-time high of 1,025 on the previous day.

With fewer people being tested over the weekend. the country added 5,318 more cases as of midnight Sunday as well, bringing the cumulative total to 570,414, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

Sunday’s tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases was slightly down from that of the previous day at 6,236, and also lower than the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases last week, which reached 6,834 between Monday and Sunday.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb at an alarming rate, the government has decided to install 34 additional COVID-19 testing centers, Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said earlier in the morning during a meeting on the virus response.

About the ongoing shortage in hospital beds, Jeon said the government has been putting forth its best effort to secure additional hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

To date, the government has secured some 3,800 additional hospital beds, according to Jeon.

Jeon added the government will soon dispatch officials from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety to 17 cities to check how many hospital beds are currently available nationwide. The government will also check if it can designate additional hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.

The bed occupancy rate in intensive care units for COVID-19 patients reached 80.9 percent as of 5 p.m. on Sunday. The rate for the greater Seoul area reached 87.8 percent.

In the meantime, the government will focus on administering booster shots, particularly for those people aged 60 and older, whose fatality rate is higher than other age groups.

On Sunday, the country added 54 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total death toll to 4,776. The fatality rate stood at 0.84 percent. Of the 54 deaths, 51 people were aged 60 or older.

As of midnight on Sunday, 81.9 percent of the country’s 52 million people had received their second shots of COVID-19 vaccines. The number of people who have received their third shots reached around 11 million.

By Shim Woo-hyun (