S.Korea scrambles to build hospital beds in shipping containers

SEOUL : South Korea authorities scrambled yesterday to build hospital beds in shipping containers to ease the strain on medical facilities stretched by the latest coronavirus wave.

The resurgence of infections - there were 682 new cases yesterday - has rekindled concerns about an acute shortage of hospital beds, prompting Seoul to begin installing container beds for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Health authorities plan to step up testing by launching temporary sites at some 150 locations across the greater Seoul area.

"We're in a critical situation where our anti-virus efforts and medical system's capacity could reach their limits before long," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a meeting, vowing to mobilise all available resources.

"Above all, we will secure sufficient treatment centres and hospital beds for critical cases so that they can receive proper treatment in a timely manner."

In Seoul, which has a population of 10 million, only around 3 per cent of hospital beds were available for severe cases, and 17 per cent for all patients, according to Ms Park Yoo-mi, a quarantine officer at the city government.

The city has dispatched 50 epidemiological investigators to 25 districts to help track down potential patients, in addition to 10 sent from the central government, Ms Park said.

A total of 274 military and police officers and other administrative staff will also be mobilised for epidemiological surveys starting Friday, she added.

Yesterday's tally of 682 cases came a day after the daily number hit 686, the second-highest since the country's first case was confirmed in January, even as tougher social distancing rules took effect this week, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

New cases have been persistently around 600 over the past week, driven by smaller, harder-to-trace clusters around the densely populated capital, whereas the early two waves were centred on a handful of groups or regions.


Meanwhile, Japan said yesterday it will buy 10,500 deep freezers to store coronavirus vaccines as it prepares for the "extraordinary task" of protecting its people, as Tokyo reported a record number of new infections.

The capital city reported 602 new cases yesterday, with nationwide daily infections at 2,078, according to public broadcaster NHK. - REUTERS