Seoul area short of I.C.U. beds as virus surge continues

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Seoul area short of I.C.U. beds as virus surge continues

Tables are spaced out at a movie theater in downtown Seoul Wednesday, each with a pamphlet describing sanitation guidelines. [YONHAP]

Tables are spaced out at a movie theater in downtown Seoul Wednesday, each with a pamphlet describing sanitation guidelines. [YONHAP]

Health authorities Wednesday vowed to find more hospital beds for serverely ill coronavirus patients as more of Korea’s older population contract the disease, saying there were only 19 such beds left in the greater Seoul area by Tuesday evening.
 
The promise came as the nation counted 320 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, according to data released Wednesday morning by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Monday’s toll was 280 cases.  
 
More than two-thirds of Tuesday’s case load came from the Seoul metropolitan area encompassing Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi, as a cluster from the Sarang Jeil Church in Seongbuk District, central Seoul — a controversial Presbyterian church mostly attended by older conservatives — continues to swell.
 
Yoon Tae-ho, an official on the Korean central government’s Covid-19 command center, said during a Wednesday press briefing that more people in their 60s or above were contracting the virus lately, which was leading to an uptick of severely ill patients. The older demographic is generally considered to be at higher risk for getting really sick from the coronavirus.
 
Out of 319 I.C.U. hospital beds for severely ill Covid-19 patients in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi combined, all but 19 were occupied by Tuesday at 8 p.m., Yoon mentioned. The official said health authorities predict the nation may see about 130 more patients with severe symptoms by Sept. 3 if daily infections continue to hover around 300, which is why it’s pertinent for the government to reserve more beds.  
 
Yoon said the government was planning to ask general hospitals in the Seoul metropolitan area to set aside 36 I.C.U. beds for Covid-19 treatment by the end of this month, plus 40 more by Sept. 14. Various incentives will be offered to hospitals, he said, such as compensation for any financial losses incurred from receiving the patients.
 
The central government also pledged to find more rooms and beds for Covid-19 patients with lighter or no symptoms.
 
New daily infections in Korea began to surge two weeks ago when the Sarang Jeil Church cluster emerged on Aug. 12. The central government elevated the social distancing levels for Seoul and Gyeonggi from Level 1 to Level 2 on Aug. 16, then raised that of Incheon two days later. The rest of the country was raised to Level 2 on Aug. 23.  
 
Health officials have been warning the public this week that the final Level 3 could be imposed nationwide if people disobey sanitation guidelines and fail to keep a distance from others.  
 
Yoon said Wednesday that while government officials are currently “discussing” going up to the third tier, now wasn’t the right time to take that final step because the virus wasn’t spreading quite as much as authorities had feared.  
 
The official urged the public to refrain from spreading “fake news” about an imminent Level 3 announcement from the central government, saying he feared it would erode public trust in health officials.
 
 
Across the nation, 307 local infections and 13 imported cases were detected on Tuesday alone.  
 
Among the local cases, 110 were in Seoul, 92 in Gyeonggi, 27 in Incheon, 18 in Gangwon, 12 each in South Jeolla and South Chungcheong, seven each in Gwangju, Daejeon and North Jeolla, five in South Gyeongsang, four in Busan, and two each in Daegu, Ulsan and Jeju Island.
 
Sejong City, North Chungcheong and North Gyeongsang were the only major cities and provinces that didn’t report any new patients.
 
Of the imported cases, three were from Uzbekistan, two from Kazakhstan, and one each from Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Guatemala, Mexico, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt.
 
Two patients died, bringing total deaths to 312. Eighty-two people recovered, bringing total recoveries to 14,368.
 
The Sarang Jeil Church cluster reached 933 cases by Wednesday noon, 18 more than the previous day. The hot spot from the antigovernment rally on Aug. 15 in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, rose to 219 cases, 26 more than the day before.
 
At least 30 patients have been traced to a new cluster at a Presbyterian church in Incheon’s Seo District, ever since a congregant first tested positive on Aug. 22. Health officials believe the virus spread within the church community three days earlier during a weekday service. Of the 30 related cases, 25 people received positive test results on Wednesday morning.  
 
In Guro District, western Seoul, at least five residents of the same apartment complex came down with the coronavirus since Sunday, and one of those patients appears to have spread the disease within his workplace, a factory in Geumcheon District, southern Seoul, which triggered yet another cluster of at least 19 patients.
 
All 19 people received positive test results Wednesday, and health officials said contact tracing was ongoing to test more employees.
 
BY LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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