‘No room to add more ICU beds at Korean hospitals,' says Health Ministry

‘No room to add more ICU beds at Korean hospitals,’ says Health Ministry
Health care workers take care of COVID-19 patients at the critical care ward of a hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

South Korean hospitals are at full capacity for intensive care, and further expanding capacity would be difficult, the government said Thursday as the number of patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 hit a record level.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s spokesperson Son Young-rae told reporters in a closed-door briefing that securing additional intensive care beds was “probably difficult.”

As a result of recent orders for hospitals to make room for COVID-19 patients, more than 100 extra intensive care beds were added over the past few weeks. There are 1,135 intensive care beds across hospitals now, according to the ministry’s count.

“We’ve reached the limit that hospitals can handle. Creating extra bed capacity further raises concerns that medical resources will be depleted,” he said. “About 10 percent of nationwide critical care resources are already devoted to treating COVID-19 patients.”

On this day Korea saw the highest-ever number of patients admitted for critical care for COVID-19 — 612 people, breaking records set Wednesday and Tuesday of 586 and 549, respectively. The number of newly diagnosed patients in a day also reached the second-highest total, 3,938, down from the record high of 4,115 seen Wednesday.

In all of Seoul just 112 intensive care beds remained vacant as of Wednesday afternoon. The total intensive care occupancy rate in the city stood at 83 percent, well above the 75 percent threshold for initiating the emergency plan.

In a departure from earlier statements, Son of the ministry said in response to press inquiries that Korea “already has some emergency plan-like measures in place, like expanding bed availability.” As recently as Tuesday the spokesperson said in a briefing that activating the emergency plan was “not necessary” based on risk assessments.

To expedite the turnover of intensive care beds, Son said the ministry was advising hospitals to discharge patients from intensive care rooms when their symptoms improve or move them to “step-down” beds.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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