Gov't Failed to Prepare for COVID Emergency

      November 26, 2021 13:07

      A rapid surge in coronavirus infection cases in Korea has brought the daily number of severe cases to 617 as of Friday morning. The number of deaths also rose to a record 39, and some of those who died had been waiting for hospital beds. The occupancy rate of hospital beds for severe cases rose to 83.9 percent in the metropolitan area. In Seoul, 295 out of just 345 available hospital beds were occupied, with just a handful of beds available in five major hospitals. With that, the ICU bed occupancy rate has surpassed the 75 percent level the government set as a threshold when it would reconsider the gradual return to normal that began on Nov. 1. Considering the shortage of medical staff and the time it takes for COVID-19 patients to recover, an 80-percent hospital bed occupancy makes it almost impossible to accept more patients.

      But why are so few beds available in the first place? Korea has a population of 58 million, but the available ICU beds range in the hundreds. In advanced countries of comparable size, available beds number in the high thousands. Medical experts had been warning since last summer of a surge in infections in winter and urged the government to secure enough hospital beds ahead of time. They also advised the government to set up separate treatment facilities for severe COVID patients or set aside existing wards for them and allocate equipment and workers there. Securing hospital beds is a basic requirement of dealing with the outbreak of any infectious disease. Until now, the government had assured the public that it is making preparations to deal with 5,000 or even 10,000 infections a day. But it is a mystery how.

      The government's budget for this year was W558 trillion, and six supplementary budgets have been created totaling tens of trillions of won to deal with the pandemic since last year (US$1=W1,191). The government handed out W55.8 trillion in coronavirus relief payouts so far. If the government had spent just 1/1,000 of that money to secure hospital beds, the country would not be facing this emergency. The government should be accused not just of complacency, but dereliction of duty. Winter is just around the corner and the number of infections and severe cases are highly likely to rise further. What is to be done in this life-threatening situation that is wholly due to the government's unbelievable lack of preparation?

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