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Seoul strains to stop virus deaths

More community treatment centers coming for patients with mild symptoms, COVID-19 caseloads top 5,300

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)




South Korea continued to mobilize all possible resources to treat coronavirus patients on Wednesday, stung by a series of deaths outside hospitals, as it reported over 500 new cases.

As of midnight Tuesday, the total number of reported coronavirus cases in Korea stood at 5,328, up 516 from the previous day, with the southeastern city of Daegu continuing to account for the lion’s share. The death toll rose to 33.

In some 66 percent of the cases, mass infections occurred at places like churches, hospitals and fitness centers, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun cautiously expected that the sharp upward trend in the number of cases may see “a slight change in the next two to three days.”

Korea has so far concentrated its testing capacity on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a Christian sect that have become the hotbed of coronavirus infections here. But as virus screening of its followers is pretty much done, priority will be given to ordinary citizens with suspected symptoms and high-risk groups, Jung Eun-kyeong, the director of the KCDCP told reporters.

“We have capability of conducting 15,000 tests a day. Due to our limited resources, we will map out a guideline so that those who have symptoms and chronic disease and elderly people can undergo tests,” she said.

Cases linked to Shincheonji and other large-scale clusters accounted for 65.6 percent, while the remaining are sporadic occurrences or those under classification process.

Churches, hospitals, gyms, an apartment complex and packaged trips were where people-to-people transmission took place.

The Daegu branch of the Shincheonji church is home to 2,583 cases. Eighty cases in South Cheongchung Province were traced to seven indoor athletic facilities.

The death toll, as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, stood at 33. Seven people had fully recovered from the infection, bringing the total number to 41.

Community spread in Daegu continued to run rampant. The country’s fourth-largest city had 4,006 citizens with confirmed infections so far.

Once the government began taking an aggressive approach to the testing of more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji church -- the country’s biggest cluster of infections -- the city reported over 500 cases a day for three consecutive days until Monday. 

The fatality rate, based on the data of 32 deaths, stood at 0.6 percent for all age groups, 4.6 percent for those in their 70s and 5.6 percent for those aged 80 or over.

The 33rd casualty was reported early Wednesday morning in Daegu. A 67-year-old woman, who had been on a respiratory system after testing positive on Feb. 25, died. She did not have an underlying disease, according to health authorities.

Six Korean passengers and one Japanese national from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise have completed their 14-day coronavirus quarantine and were released from a medical center in Incheon.

Health authorities have started running makeshift treatment centers, set up at nonmedical facilities, for patients with mild symptoms while seeking to reserve hospital beds for elderly patients and those with underlying diseases.

On Wednesday, some 210 patients will be admitted to the Samsung Electronics Leadership Center in Youngdeok, North Gyeongsang Province. Including the center, the authorities have secured six facilities with the capacity to accommodate 1,189 people in total.

The government will submit a 11.7 trillion won ($9.85 billion) supplementary budget bill, the fourth-largest budget in the country’s history, for parliament approval on Thursday to fight against the coronavirus and offset its economic impact.

The funding package is designed to cover the costs for negative pressure wards and ambulances, diagnostics and related equipment. It will be used to compensate medical institutes that suffer financial losses in aftermath of the government’s preventive measures such as shutdown.

The proposal will also support those in hospitalization and isolation as well as those who run mom-and-pop stores and small and medium-sized enterprises hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Wednesday, the government said it plans to distribute guidelines for operation of drive-through testing stations to local governments. The system enables drivers and passengers undergo the entire testing procedures in minutes, which will reduce the potential of virus exposure compared to hospital visits.

An application with Global Positioning System that sends notifications when people in self-quarantine leave their designated space will be launched this week. 

Authorities will start using the app on Saturday for the people in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province first where infection cases are concentrated.

There were some 27,700 people in self-isolation across the country as of Sunday.


By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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