SEOUL • Dozens of elderly South Korean coronavirus patients were transferred from nursing homes to hospitals this week following criticism that government policy had led to a spike in deaths among the vulnerable residents.

The country’s total number of infections passed 60,000 yesterday, as 967 additional cases were reported.

At least 486 of South Korea’s 900 reported deaths were of people over the age of 80. Only 40 deaths have been reported among people younger than 60.

At least 316 residents of nursing hospitals or nursing homes have died, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said yesterday.

Of the record 40 deaths in one day reported by KDCA on Tuesday, 70 per cent were residents of nursing homes or nursing hospitals.

“Since most of the hospitalised in the nursing homes are elderly and with underlying conditions, they are at a high risk of death when infected with Covid-19,” Mr Choi Dae-zip, president of the Korean Medical Association, told a news conference. “They should be given priority for hospital beds and receive proper treatment.”

Dr Kim Dong-hyun, president of the Korean Society of Epidemiology, said the government was repeating mistakes it had made during earlier waves of infection, similar to mistakes made in the United States and Europe.

“Even if they separate the infected patients to other floors and rooms, transmission is inevitable,” he said.

At a nursing hospital in Seoul’s Guro district, at least 102 residents and 69 medical staff have been infected, while seven residents have died of the coronavirus since the first case was reported at the facility on Dec 15.

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Another 22 cases were linked to the cluster there.

By yesterday, all but one coronavirus patient at the nursing hospital had been transferred to regular hospitals, while 246 residents who were not infected were moved to other facilities, according to health officials.

The authorities have transferred out all confirmed cases from eight of the 10 nursing homes that have reported cases, health official Yoon Tae-ho told a briefing.

A total of 40 confirmed coronavirus patients were still at the two remaining facilities, he said.

Dr Yoon previously said that the government had decided to treat patients at the nursing homes because it was easier to care for them by sending medical staff to the facilities.

South Korea has been mulling over raising its social distancing measures to the highest level, but the authorities have hesitated for fear of potentially devastating economic outcomes by having more than two million multi-use facilities undergo limitations in business activities.

Officials said a decision on this will be made tomorrow.

The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters said that officials are in discussion with experts and local governments to come up with a new plan from Monday, as the current rules will cease by the end of Sunday.




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