Moon orders hospitals to treat more critical patients, secure I.C.U. beds
President Moon Jae-in on Monday instructed national university hospitals to concentrate their medical capabilities on treating critically ill Covid-19 patients, announcing measures to address the country’s shortage of intensive care unit (I.C.U.) beds.
“It is entirely the government’s responsibility to secure Covid-19 hospital beds,” said Moon, issuing a special order to expand the country’s medical response capabilities in order to eventually return to daily normalcy.
Moon asked the state-owned university hospitals to “focus their medical capacities on treating critically ill Covid-19 patients," in a meeting with his aides, according to presidential spokesperson Park Kyung-mee. He noted that despite the government’s efforts to double hospital beds over the past year and expand at-home treatment, “it was not enough to support a return to our daily lives.”
While the country’s daily cases dropped to the 5,000s for the first time in six days, the number of critically ill patients remained high at 997 Monday, according to health authorities. This is a slight dip from the record-high 1,025 critically ill patients Sunday and the previous high of 1,016 on Saturday.
Moon urged public hospitals in the metropolitan area to shift their specialization to infectious diseases when possible, and for private hospitals to treat other patients to aid such efforts and fill any medical voids to “minimize any setbacks.”
The president further encouraged hospitals to consider building modular beds. He also called for public sector medical personnel, including military doctors, to focus on Covid-19 patient treatment.
The Blue House plans to form a task force with related ministries and the private sector to resolve the hospital bed issue, he added, and the government will provide financial support and compensate for the losses incurred by hospitals participating in Covid-19 treatment.
Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) said Monday it will operate an emergency system to respond to a spike in critically ill patients and secure more Covid-19 beds.
The hospital decided to postpone nonessential surgeries to better focus on the treatment of critically ill Covid-19 patients and secure some 100 more hospital beds at its various branches.
The SNUH in central Seoul plans to increase the current 54 beds for Covid-19 patients to 90 in the future. SNUH currently operates 42 I.C.U. beds and 12 beds for patients will less severe symptoms.
The Seoul National University Bundang Hospital in Gyeonggi also plans to increase its I.C.U. beds from 40 to more than 70. The SMG-SNU Boramae Medical Center, operated by Seoul National University with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, is also discussing a plan to increase its number of beds for critically ill patients from 18 to 40.
Through postponing non-emergency surgeries, the hospital plans to make more room and also free up more staff to focus on Covid-19 patients in serious condition. The specific details will be determined by the medical professionals, and surgeries for cancer patients will not be delayed, according to the hospital. Under the measures, some 40 doctors and 100 nurses are expected to be dispatched to I.C.U. wards treating Covid-19 patients.
SNUH also plans to install 48 negative pressure modular beds on the third floor rooftop tennis court at its hospital in Seoul. This is expected to take six months to complete.
The hospital made the decision after holding a meeting of the heads of medical departments led by SNUH president and CEO, Kim Yon-su, earlier that day.
It also plans to recommend limiting hospitalization of those who are unvaccinated for Covid-19 unless there is a medical necessity.
The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said Monday in a briefing that a significant part of national university hospital treatment capabilities will be dedicated to treating patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms.
Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said in a Covid-19 response that 3,800 beds have been secured through four administrative orders as of Sunday, and that the government will work toward securing more I.C.U. beds.
Korea reported 5,318 new Covid-19 cases, bringing total cases to 570,414, said the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Monday. There are fewer coronavirus tests conducted over the weekend.
The country added 54 more fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 4,776.
The I.C.U. occupancy rate for Covid-19 patients was 80.9 percent as of 5 p.m. on Sunday. This compared to 87.8 percent in the metropolitan area, with the I.C.U. bed capacity at 88.9 percent in Seoul, 85.8 percent in Gyeonggi and 91.8 percent in Incheon.
The country has so far reported 178 Omicron variant cases.
As of Monday, 84.7 percent of the population received at least their first shots of a Covid-19 shot and 81.9 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the KDCA, while 22.5 percent have gotten their booster shots.
Since Saturday, the government reintroduced stricter social distancing measures limiting private gatherings and restricting nighttime operation hours of most businesses, set to run through at least Jan. 2. The latest restrictions put a pause on the “Living with Covid-19” scheme introduced early last month aimed at a phased return to normalcy.
Schools also returned to partial remote learning Monday, with only first and second grade students continuing with completely in-class studies. The rest of elementary school grades are capped at three-fourths capacity, while middle and high schools are restricted to two-thirds capacity.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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