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Asia Minute: No room at hospitals for most new COVID patients in South Korea

coronavirus Outbreak South Korea 120121
Lee Jin-man/AP
A medical worker wearing protective gear in a booth, takes sample from a woman at a temporary screening clinic for the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. South Korea's daily jump in coronavirus infections exceeded 5,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Around the world, an intense focus continues on the latest variant of the coronavirus. But in several places, even without the new variant, the virus is pushing health care systems to their limits — that includes South Korea.

South Korea’s Health Ministry says more than 90% of the intensive care beds in Seoul are now occupied.

Nationwide, nearly 80% of ICU beds are full — what the prime minister calls “an emergency situation.”

That situation is so dire that the government has ordered most newly diagnosed COVID patients to remain in their homes.

Hospital space will be reserved for newly infected patients who are 70 and older, or who are suffering from a chronic illness.

New case numbers across the country rose to a daily record Wednesday — passing 5,000 for the first time.

Critical cases also hit a new high today.

Still, public schools remain in session in the greater Seoul area after re-opening just last week.

Seoul’s Education Superintendent told reporters Tuesday that “the number of transmissions in schools is not high.”

So far, President Moon Jae-in has postponed plans to further relax COVID restrictions — but he also hasn’t moved to tighten them despite the recent spike in cases.

The government is expanding the availability of booster shots this coming weekend.

Adults 18 to 49 will now be eligible five months after their last shot.

The government reports nearly 80% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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