Six people suffering from COVID-19 have died in South Korea this month while waiting for hospital beds and hundreds can not get admitted as surging coronavirus infections overload the health system, officials and media said on Friday.
South Korea reported 1,062 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its second-highest ever daily tally, as the government agonised over tighter restrictions and warned businesses it was unacceptable to try to dodge shut-down orders.
The daily number was above 1,000 for the third straight day for the first time, data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) showed.
The rash of new cases has shaken a country that has for months been held up as a mitigation success story. But despite its total tally rising to 47,515 infections, South Korea has only suffered about 650 deaths.
One of those who died waiting for a hospital bed was at home in the capital, Seoul, after testing positive on Saturday, while three others were in a nursing home in Gyeonggi province.
The Yonhap news agency reported two other such deaths in December but provided no immediate details.
“We express our deepest condolences and feel keenly responsible,” Park Yoo-mi, a quarantine officer for the Seoul government told a briefing.
“The on-site response team in the Seoul metropolitan area has been experiencing difficulty in allocating beds due to sharp increase in confirmed cases and overload in administration and medical systems since the beginning of December.”
Park vowed to strengthen the public health system and said 580 patients were waiting for beds in Seoul on Friday, 227 of whom have been waiting for at least two days.
The unprecedented surge in serious cases had strained the health system, with only a limited number of critical care beds available, health officials have been warning.
Meanwhile, the government is agonising over whether to tighten up social distancing, which would mean ordering 1.2 million business to suspend operations.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said that given the burden on businesses, “social consensus” was necessary for a decision.
He also said everyone had to play by the virus restriction rules.
“There have been increasing attempts to continue operation in an irregular way by changing their stated type of business in order to slip through the government’s anti-virus efforts,” Chung told a government meeting.
“That can never be acceptable.”
Chung did not give any details but media has reported some bars trying to beat the bans by passing themselves off as restaurants.