SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will consider expanding home treatment of COVID-19 patients, a health official said on Wednesday, as both new daily infections and severe cases hit record highs, putting hospital capacity under strain.
Infections in South Korea have skyrocketed this month after the government began to ease restrictions under a so-called “living with COVID-19” scheme in November.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 7,175 new coronavirus cases and 63 deaths for Tuesday, the first time daily infections topped 7,000, while hospitals treated a record 840 critical and serious cases.
“It is important to retain or reduce the trend of the current scale of the severely-ill patients within a week or two,” Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, told a news conference.
He said the government may need to make significant adjustments to the healthcare system if daily cases top 10,000, and consider expanding at-home treatment from around 50% currently, as four-fifths of COVID-19 patients are symptomless or have only mild symptoms.
Less than 3% of the COVID-19 patients were hospitalised in the UK, 6.95% in Singapore and 12.8% in Japan, Son said.
The government will mobilise additional personnel to oversee coronavirus patients treating themselves at home and improve the emergency transfer system to hospitals for those who develop severe symptoms, Kim told a COVID-19 response meeting. Private clinics will also treat COVID-19 patients in addition to large hospitals.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum urged the elderly to get booster shots with people aged 60 and above accounting for 35% of infections were and 84% of severe cases. He also urged adolescents to get vaccinated.
South Korea has so far confirmed 38 cases of the Omicron variant.
With 80% of South Korea’s cases located in greater Seoul, authorities have struggled to secure enough beds for hospitalised patients in the area.
South Korea imposed stricter measures on Monday, including reduced numbers of people allowed at private gatherings and expanding vaccine pass mandates.
The country has so far reported a total of 489,484 COVID-19 cases, with 4,020 deaths. It has fully vaccinated 91.8% of its adult population aged 18 and above, KDCA data showed.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Sam Holmes and Stephen Coates)