Blood donations plunge amid virus concerns

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Blood donations plunge amid virus concerns

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Civil servants of Haeundae District Office in Busan wait in a line to donate their blood on Tuesday as blood banks suffer from a severe shortage. People are refraining from going to donate due to concerns about the coronavirus. [SONG BONG-GEUN]

Korean blood banks are suffering from a severe shortage as more people are refraining from making donations amid concerns about the coronavirus.

According to the Korean Red Cross Blood Services on Monday, a total of 273 organizations have canceled their plans to donate blood since Jan. 21, a day after Korea’s first confirmed patient of the new coronavirus was announced, while some 13,900 individuals backtracked on their plans to donate.

The number of individual donors between Jan. 21 and yesterday was about 174,471, a considerable drop from the same period last year when the figure stood at 196,177.

As of Monday afternoon, Korea had a four-and-a-half-days’ supply of blood, lower than the standard reserve of five days. When supplies fall under three-days’ worth, the Korean Red Cross announces an “emergency blood shortage.”

As people’s reluctance to donate blood grows after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, an increase is expected in directed donations, whereby patients get the opportunity to choose their donors.

According to the Korean Red Cross, some 2,894 had received blood through directed donations for a week, from Feb. 10 to 16, a huge hike when compared to directed donations for the entire month of February last year which amounted to 2,629.

“Since the hospital has an insufficient amount of blood, we’ve been telling our patients to search for donors on their own,” an official from the Gyeonggi branch of the Korean Red Cross in Suwon, Gyeonggi, said. “Our hospital looks very crowded these days, but it’s because patients come with their own donors.”

In a bid to solve the issue, the national government has been exerting efforts to raise awareness about the situation.

On Feb. 13, about 110 officials from Suwon City Office including Suwon City Mayor Yeom Tae-young donated blood at the Korean Red Cross bus at Suwon City Hall. The Blue House held a blood donation event for two days, from Monday to Tuesday, to encourage more officials’ participation.

An official from the Korea Coast Guard urged people to participate in blood donations saying that “there is no risk of contracting the virus as officials from the Korean Red Cross wear masks and check temperature for all donors thoroughly” during a blood donation event held at Korea Coast Guard’s Incheon branch.

“Korea may have to worry about the possibility of the current blood shortage immediately turning into a national crisis,” an official from Gyeonggi branch of the Korean Red Cross said. “The local governments should come up with countermeasures as soon as possible by organizing councils that can encourage the public’s participation.”

The Korean Red Cross on Feb. 4 issued a statement appealing for the public’s active participation in blood donations. The Korean Red Cross has been offering two movie tickets - previously it offered one - to people who donate blood in an attempt to encourage more participation.

“Korea is currently suffering from blood shortages as the number of blood donations have plunged due to the novel coronavirus,” the statement read. “We appeal to all public to participate in blood donations more actively.”

BY CHEA SARAH, CHAE HYE-SEON AND SHIM SEOK-YONG [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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