The new coronavirus has been spreading further. Four more patients were added on the confirmed list in South Korea on Thursday, totaling in 23 patients including the one who was recently discharged from the hospital. There are more routes for the virus to infiltrate, as it has also spread to Japan, Thailand and Singapore. There is a high possibility of new infections occurring in third countries given many Chinese traders traveling across East Asian countries.
Contacts with patients are increasing along with the number of patients. The number of those who had contact with a patient was 956 as of Wednesday morning, but the number would go up a lot higher once the government wraps its head around the number of those who had contact with Wednesday’s four additional patients. The capital city of the nation is on high alert because among the four additional patients were an employee of GS Home Shopping who worked in Yeongdeungpo-gu and a resident of a large apartment complex in Songpa-gu, districts with a large transient population.
While the manual have been changed several times to fill the loopholes in quarantine, resources at community health centers are being stretched thin. The health centers are in a state of paralysis as the government ordered an inspection all visitors from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as self-isolation and one-on-one watch on everyone who had contact with confirmed patients. They also have to manage those who had contact with patients a day before they had symptoms after the government acknowledged the possibility of subclinical infection. Community health centers inspect undiagnosed patients who departed from countries other than China as the virus spread to third countries. They are also responsible for managing self-isolation of Chinese students entering South Korea for a new semester.
Enhancing the quarantine system is essential to prevent the virus from spreading to local communities. The new patients are found to be the secondary and tertiary infection cases, which is raising concerns that the virus may have spread to local communities. But if community health centers are overloaded with the work ordered by the government, it would be hard to guarantee the effectiveness of quarantine and may compromise the frontline of disease prevention. Unlike hospitals, community health centers usually lack trained experts and quarantine equipment, which is why the medical staff are more likely to be infected by the virus when the situation is prolonged.
The government assigned an inspection to some 50 private medical institutions and decided to increase the number of inspection kits provided from the current 160 to 2,000 per day. It would hardly make differences considering the reality of community health centers where late-night shifts are the new normal. Staff members at community health centers are not enough to stop the spread. To stop the virus, the government should make utmost efforts by utilizing all resources including public health doctors and administrative staff at the central and local governments. It needs to upgrade the quarantine infrastructure including clinics for screening and provide resources to community health centers to reinforce their capacity.