S Korea sees another jump in COVID-19 case

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — South Korea has reported 1,062 new cases of the coronavirus, its third straight day of over 1,000, as authorities in Seoul warn that hospital beds are in short supply.

Seoul City said a COVID-19 patient in his 60s died at his home on Tuesday after officials failed to find him a hospital bed for days. The city said an “explosive growth” in patients this month has resulted in an “overload in administrative and medical systems”.

The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) yesterday brought the national caseload to 47,515.

The death toll rose to 645 after 11 more patients died overnight. Among 12,888 active patients, at least 246 were in serious or critical condition, the largest number since the emergence of the pandemic.

Senior Health Ministry official Son Young-rae said there were only 49 intensive care beds left for COVID-19 patients nationwide, with just four of them in the capital area.

People walk past a row of stalls at Namdaemun market in Seoul. PHOTO: AFP

He said health authorities are planning to secure around 170 more ICU beds by early January by designating more hospitals for COVID-19 treatment.

Health authorities are also expanding a massive testing programme to find and isolate virus carriers more quickly. Son said the country tested over 80,000 people alone on Thursday and plans to test patients and workers at long-term care facilities once every week or two.

South Korea is planning to secure more than 84 million doses of coronavirus vaccines. That would be enough to cover 44 million people in a population of about 51 million.

Senior KDCA official Yang Dong-gyo said they hope to vaccinate 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the population by around November 2021, ahead of the start of the new influenza season.

Over 760 of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, restaurants, schools, and army units.

The viral resurgence has put pressure on the government to raise social distancing restrictions to maximum levels, something policymakers have resisted for weeks out of economic concerns.

Such measures would possibly ban gatherings of more than 10 people, shutter hundreds of thousands of non-essential businesses, and require companies to have more employees work from home.