Carelessness continuesThe cluster outbreaks at residential treatment centers had been long foreseen. Virus infection and seriously-ill senior patients is a lethal mix. Caring for them in the same facility would require highly delicate quarantine procedures. But staff at rehabs lack medical professionalism in infectious diseases. Still, infected patients were placed under their care.
Since a facility in Guro District, western Seoul, and another rehab in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, were locked down, a string of deaths has been reported. Staff are forced to continue with treating inpatients even after they also become infected. Since caretakers left the facilities, nurses must also look after original inpatients. Some elderly patients even died due to their deteriorated health conditions after refusing to eat food to lessen trouble for the staff.
A similar tragedy took place in March in a hospital in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang, during the early outbreak in the southern region in spring last year. A lock down then was deemed an emergency action to prevent further spread. Experts at the time advised to secure more medical professionals and hospital beds to brace for a winter outbreak. But the rehab cluster suggests authorities had not prepared well. Jeon Byung-ryul — a professor of preventive medicine at Cha University who had previously headed the disease control and prevention center in 2009 during the swine flu outbreak — shook his head at health authorities for ignoring repeated calls for aggressive vaccine procurement and readiness in defiance of the medical community’s warnings about winter outbreaks.
But health authorities hurriedly removed inpatients after hundreds became infected and deaths resulted. They set up emergency taskforces, but their belated actions cannot pardon them for neglecting fundamental preventive measures. The central Covid-19 headquarters even excluded death counts from residential treatment facilities from the tally on deaths just because they died while waiting for treatment.
The latest stumbles raise concerns that Korea could be slower than others in exiting the Covid-19 crisis. Authorities must be clear about the treatment process to calm patients and families. Since the government has lost credibility for its poor response toward cluster outbreaks in rehabs and Seoul Dongbu Detention Center, it must take advantage of outside experts on how to respond better to winter outbreaks.