Ambulance Services Reach Capacity Amid COVID Surge

      March 24, 2022 12:52

      Emergency services have reached capacity amid a surge in coronavirus infections, with some patients having to wait more than an hour for an ambulance.

      According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government on Wednesday, a daily average of 1,966 emergency calls for ambulances were made from March 1 to 15, up about 50 percent from a year earlier and up 28 percent from January and February.

      It is also taking longer time for ambulances to reach hospitals and return to their headquarters. In 2020, when the pandemic started, it took just on average 50 minutes, rising to 59 minutes last year, but now it has reached an hour and three minutes.

      The delays are caused by the refusal of some hospitals or clinics to accept any more COVID patients, so they have to try their luck elsewhere.

      Medical workers disinfect an ambulance at a hospital in Seoul on Tuesday. /Newsis

      When one ambulance was dispatched to pick up an 81-year-old COVID patient with breathing difficulties, cough and fever from Seoul's Guro District in the afternoon of March 11, it took a staggering 11 hours until the patient reached hospital. The ambulance crew asked some 30 hospitals in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province if they had room in the isolation ward, but none accepted him. Only in the small hours of the next morning were they able to transport the patient to a hospital in Gyeonggi Province.

      In 457 instances it took ambulances more than four hours to take patients to hospital between March 1 and 15. In 148 of them they had to wait for more than two hours until hospitals accepted patients.

      A spokesman for the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters said, "Ambulance crew are having to fight more and more fatigue as they respond to an increasing number of emergency calls and have to wait on the road longer due to the COVID spike."

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