SEOUL (Reuters): South Korea’s highest priority is securing more hospital beds to handle a record surge in coronavirus cases and blunt a corresponding spike in deaths, the country’s prime minister said on Wednesday (Dec 16).
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,078 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Tuesday, the highest since the start of the pandemic.
The latest number came three days after the daily tally topped 1,000 for the first time since South Korea confirmed its first coronavirus infection in January.
The KDCA also reported 12 more deaths, the second day of double-digit deaths after a record 13 the day before in a country that had kept overall cases and deaths relatively low through aggressive tracing and testing.
The number of severe cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks to hit a record high of 226 on Wednesday.
There were only three critical care bed left in the greater Seoul area with a nearly 26 million population, officials said.
“The top priority is securing more hospital beds, ” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting, according to a transcript.
“Full administrative power should be mobilised so that no patient would wait for more than a day before being assigned to her bed.”
He said the government is making all-out efforts to implement current social distancing rules in an effort to avoid having to impose the highest level of restrictions, which would effectively be the country’s first lockdown.
Meanwhile, South Korean pharmaceutical maker Celltrion Inc's candidate Covid-19 antibody treatment has been approved to be used on patients with life-threatening conditions, health authorities said on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety approved CT-P59 under its patient treatment scheme on Friday, its website showed.
Under the scheme, patients with life-threatening conditions and with no other means of treatment can receive drugs still undergoing clinical trials, the ministry said.
Celltrion is conducting second- and third-phase clinical trials for CT-P59, and plans to seek emergency-use approval for the treatment before year-end, a company spokesman said.
The treatment is expected to be administered to the first patients "soon", Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency official Kwon Jun-wook said in a briefing on Tuesday.