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Korea hosting increasingly more foreign patients of COVID-19

Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo speaks during a June 19 meeting with hospital officials to discuss operations of COVID-19 treatment centers, which house patients with mild case of the disease. (Yonhap)
Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo speaks during a June 19 meeting with hospital officials to discuss operations of COVID-19 treatment centers, which house patients with mild case of the disease. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s COVID-19 treatment center for foreign patients is running out of beds fast, with only one available as of Wednesday, according to sources.

More patients have come in here from abroad in the month of June than past two months, with increasingly higher proportion of them being foreigners, the Korea Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention's data shows.

“There are currently 51 patients at the center, with two more expected to be admitted this afternoon. That leaves only one vacant bed,” said Kim Tae-yong, a National Health Insurance Service official who oversees the center located in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province.

Nearly 60 percent of all patients linked to overseas travels have been foreigners so far this month, according to the KCDC situation reports. Foreigners account for about one-fifth of 1,491 imported cases to date.

To relieve the shortage, Kim said the Anseong center is set to move to another place in South Chungcheong Province with a larger bed capacity in about a week’s time.

In addition to the center’s relocation, the Health Ministry said Wednesday that it would review opening another coronavirus center for foreigners in anticipation of a further patient surge.

Because most foreign patients struggled communicating with the local health care workers and had specific needs such as religious diet restrictions, they needed specialized assistance, Kim said.

“We have an interpreter who helps the patients with the health personnel’s visit, which is three times a day,” he said. “Patients who come from Islamic countries would not eat certain things, for instance, and there are also those who are vegan or vegetarian. So we prepare meals catered to the individual needs.”

There are currently eight health care workers and 48 officials from the Health Ministry, police and the military at the center taking care of the patients and managing other housekeeping matters.

The treatment centers are meant for milder cases of the disease that do not require hospitalization, and patients who develop severe symptoms while admitted there are moved to hospitals.

Health authorities have sounded alarms over the recent uptick in imported cases, but this is possibly the best defense Korea is putting up at the border, according to preventive medicine specialist Dr. Choi Jae-wook.

Choi, who is heading the Korean Medical Association’s scientific review committee, said as the pandemic is projected to last a long time, barring international travel altogether would come with heavy economic costs.

“Korea is already testing all passengers within three days of arrival and requiring them to isolate for 14 days. Extra measures would be a burden for health workers as well as the administrative officials,” he said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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