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Korea’s war against coronavirus reaches turning pointNation relocates patients with mild symptoms to non-medical facilities
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.03.02 17:14
  • Updated 2020.03.02 17:14
  • comments 0

As Korea’s COVID-19 patients exceed 3,700 and counting, the government has overhauled its strategy in combating new coronavirus in ways to prepare for the third-wave spread of the epidemic.

The new strategy calls first for dividing confirmed patients into two groups by the severity of symptoms and then managing them separately. The health authorities will continue patients with severe symptoms at medical institutions but relocate those with mild symptoms to non-medical facilities.

Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo explains the government’s measures to combat the new coronavirus in a news briefing at his office in Sejong Government Complex.

Such a change came after some critically-ill patients died while they were waiting for hospital beds in negative pressure rooms.

The modified strategy is also a response to experts' calls for making a turning point in the government’s anti-epidemic struggle. Since Feb. 22, the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases, the Korea Hospital Association and the Korean Medical Association, and the Central Clinical Committee have pointed out the need to divide patients by symptoms.

In Daegu, which has the largest number of outbreaks, almost 1,600 patients have not been able to be hospitalized after confirmation. A 75-year-old man died during self-isolation because the hospital could not find a place for him. Also, the 14th patient, a 70-old woman, also died while she was waiting for the test result at home due to sudden difficulty in breathing. Both deserved priority in hospitalization because of their underlying diseases and old age, but they died before receiving treatment.

Besides, the hospitalization of mildly-ill patients who do not need medical treatment only increases the possibility of infection to limited medical staff, experts point out.

"We have found that about 80 percent of COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms that do not need hospitalization based on our accumulated data," said an official at Korea Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.

Under the revised manual, the government will assign mild patients with no need for hospitalization to regional healthcare centers, including alienated lodges or state-run facilities for monitoring purposes. The government will arrange medical teams to healthcare centers and frequently monitor patients' conditions.

The government has designated the National Education Training Institute in Daegu as the first such healthcare center, having Kyungpook National University Hospital provide medical care for those staying at the facility.

Health officials are also discussing with the nation’s largest hospitals -- Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH), Severance Hospital, Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center, and the Catholic University Seoul St. Mary's Hospital -- for running their own healthcare centers or dispatching medical workforce to regional facilities.

The SNUH has decided to operate 100 rooms at its Department of Education and Research as a healthcare center to mild and asymptomatic patients. The healthcare center will have one patient per room to minimize contacts with outside because it does not have a negative pressure room.

It will transport the patients to medical institutions in the case of worsening conditions or discharge them if their conditions improve enough to meet the criteria.

The problem remains, however, because separating severe and mild patients is more complicated than expected, the experts said. Also, moving the hospitalized patients to healthcare centers after reclassification could result in controversies.

Besides, the criteria for severe patients are currently unclear. The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Central Clinical Committee plans to classify patients in four levels -- mild, moderate, severe, and very severe.

"What’s most important is that we have modified the treatment system reflecting the experts' idea," Minister of the Ministry of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hu said. "The new healthcare centers will allow access to medical service to access and at the right time."


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