December 02, 2021 12:06
New coronavirus infections in Korea rose to over 5,000 on Wednesday, and ICU beds for serious cases were nearly full at 89.2 percent, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
In the Seoul metropolitan area there were 842 critically ill patients waiting for hospital beds to become available, 474 of them over 70. But the shortage of beds is affecting the entire country, with no beds left for serious cases in Daejeon and Sejong and only five were in North and South Chungcheong provinces, two in North Gyeongsang Province, six on Jeju Island, seven in Gwangju, eight in South Jeolla Province and nine in Gangwon Province.
That means the government will be unable to make up for the shortfall in the capital region by taking patients to provincial hospitals instead. Frontline doctors said it takes twice as many medical workers to care for COVID patients than for other diseases so it is impossible to take on more.
When it started a phased return to normal on Nov. 1, the government said Korea's medical system is capable of handling 5,000 daily infections and promised not to activate a circuit breaker even if their number rose to 10,000. Now that confidence is beginning to look misplaced because the government failed to set aside enough ICU beds.
Signs of a shortage emerged when daily infections surpassed 3,000. At height of the last surge in August, the mortality rate for COVID-19 was 0.36 percent, but that has now risen to 0.93 percent even though 80 percent of the population are fully vaccinated.
Health experts blame the rise on the government's failure to secure hospital beds for increasing numbers of patients in time.
Chun Eun-mi at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital said, "At this rate, the number of critically ill patients will surpass 1,000 in one to two weeks. The government should increase temporary treatment facilities and hospital beds instead of having people self-isolate at home."
One suggestion that is gaining traction is triage. The Korean Society of Critical Care Medicine recommended the government stop sending patients who have a low chance of recovery to ICUs and admit only those who have more than an 80-percent chance of recovery instead.
As of Wednesday, more than 80 percent of Koreans have been fully vaccinated, but only 7.8 percent received booster shots.
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