Health care workers take care of a COVID-19 patient at a local hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea will secure 10,000 additional hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in January to counter the increasing number of critically ill coronavirus patients, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Wednesday.
If the government successfully adds hospital beds, the total number could increase to 25,000.
“(The government) will take preemptive measures in case the country’s daily COVID-19 cases reach 15,000,” Kim said during a COVID-19 response meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.
According to Kim, the government will designate additional public health care institutions -- including the National Medical Center and Seoul Medical Center -- to exclusively treat COVID-19 patients. The government will also ask national university hospitals to provide at least 300 extra hospital beds to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, Kim added.
Kim’s announcement comes amid an ongoing shortage of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, caused by recent surges in the number of critically ill coronavirus patients.
As of midnight Tuesday, the number of critically ill patients came to a fresh high of 1,063, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
The bed occupancy rate in intensive care units for COVID-19 patients slightly came down to 79.2 percent, from 80.7 percent of the previous day.
However, the bed occupancy rate for Greater Seoul continued to remain high, at 85.7 percent.
According to health authorities, there are only 120 hospital beds left in the wider Seoul area as of midnight Tuesday, and 493 COVID-19 patients in the area were waiting to be admitted to hospitals.
In the meantime, South Korea’s new COVID-19 cases climbed back into the 7,000s. The country reported 7,456 new COVID-19 cases for the 24 hours of Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total to 583,065.
Of the 7,456 confirmed cases, 5,446 cases were from Greater Seoul, which accounted for 73.9 percent. Seoul reported 2,779 infections and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province reported 2,192 cases.
The government also noted that the number of infections among children aged 7-12 has been increasing rapidly.
The combined number of COVID-19 infections in the 7-12 age group in the last week reached 4,325, up from 1,835 in the fourth week of November.
The prime minister said the government will speed up vaccinating children and providing third shots to the older population to better respond to the prolonging COVID-19 resurgence.
As of midnight Tuesday, 82.1 percent of the country’s 52 million population had received their second shots of COVID-19 vaccines. Those who had received their third shots came to 25.5 percent, the KDCA said.