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First weekend amid Wuhan coronavirus infection in local communities

First weekend amid Wuhan coronavirus infection in local communities

Posted February. 08, 2020 07:44,   

Updated February. 08, 2020 07:44


The number of patients confirmed with the new coronavirus from China has increased to 24 in total in South Korea and the number of those who came in contact with such patients has soared to nearly 1,400. Ever since the first confirmed case was identified in the country on January 20, more people have contracted the virus and the viral infection in local communities – one of the main concerns – has begun to take place. Along with the shutdown of GS Home Shopping, a post office, and hospitals, the main branch of Lotte Department Store in Seoul has temporarily suspended business for disinfection after finding out that a patient in the incubation period visited the place. The Ministry of Education & Human Resources Development decided to reduce the number of school days to one-tenth for elementary, middle, and high schools. Such a measure is only adopted for natural disasters, according to the law. It is indeed an emergency situation where South Koreans’ daily lives and economic system are becoming paralyzed in many aspects.

However, the South Korean government is maintaining a relatively low contagious disease alert level – one to be issued for limited spread – while saying, “It is a grave situation with the rising possibility of viral infection in local communities.” Though the government announced to take measures comparable to the “serious” level, which is the highest alert level in the case of local community infection, basic information, such as the previous whereabouts of confirmed patients, has not been transparently disclosed, adding more anxiety among citizens.

In the beginning, the South Korean health authorities completed epidemiological investigation in one day and released the past whereabouts of confirmed patients, but such disclosure is being delayed as the number of confirmed cases is increasing beyond available capacity. As there is no clear manual on such information disclosure, the heads of some local governments publicized relevant information on his or her social media accounts while the central government takes a longer time. Such information disclosure by local governments is criticized for the possibility to cause confusion, but they have not released any incorrect information so far and been effective in stopping rumors. The health authorities should develop clear information disclosure guidelines in collaboration with local governments and strive for a quicker information release for the citizens to avoid further infections.

As the tests for new coronavirus infection, which had been conducted by the Research Institutes of Public Health and Environment in 17 cities and provinces, have been expanded to about 50 private medical institutions since Friday, a large number of unknown patients may be identified. This means that there are already patients whose points of transmission are unknown.

“There are only 260 or so isolation wards across the nation, which means the viral infection can spread widely in the event of a rapid increase of patients,” said the Korean Medical Association in its urgent recommendations to the government. “Some national and public hospitals should be designated for cohort isolation, which refers to the shutdown of an entire medical institution to treat only infected cases,” the association proposed. Back in 2015 when the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was spreading, some patients were admitted to hospitals without isolation units, causing infections among the family members of patients and health care providers. The measure to designate a few numbers of national and public hospitals as the new coronavirus patients-only hospitals should be preemptively reviewed for effective treatment and prevention of viral spread in local communities. The government should raise the contagious disease alert level to the “serious” level as soon as possible for all-out efforts.