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Measures to treat patients with mild symptoms make no progress

Measures to treat patients with mild symptoms make no progress

Posted January. 27, 2022 07:55,   

Updated January. 27, 2022 07:55


As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has spread quickly in South Korea, the number of new daily patients recorded 13,012 as of 12 a.m. on Wednesday, exceeding 10,000 cases for the first time. The figure doubled in a week from 4,072 cases on January 18 and added 4,400 more cases in just one day. The disease control authorities believe that up to 120,000 patients will be produced per day at the end of February.

The South Korean government began the response system to the Omicron variant in four regions where Omicron patients are concentrated, including Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, Pyeongtaek, and Anseong, on Wednesday and plans to expand it across the nation from February 3 when the Lunar New Year holiday ends. As a result, PCR tests will become available only to high-risk groups while most need a positive test result from a self-test or a rapid antigen test to receive a PCR test.

The Omicron variant is two to three times more infectious than the Delta variant but has one-fifths of the fatality rate compared to the Delta variant. As the characteristics of infections have changed, the focus of disease control activities has switched from preventing infections to managing high-risk groups.

What’s problematic is the lack of treatment infrastructure to take care of patients with no or mild symptoms that are bound to soar. The number of homecare patients reached over 37,000 as of Wednesday, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the maximum number of patients manageable by homecare facilities across the nation. More patients exceeding the highest figure so far are expected right after the Lunar New Year holiday. The government announced on January 14 that it would switch to a system where local clinics will be in charge of diagnosis and homecare treatment but it is yet to release the scope of participating clinics two weeks later. Are they willing to give up on the treatment of patients with mild symptoms?

Local clinics are hesitant to participate as there are concerns about their medical staff getting infected and potential financial difficulties from a reduction in non-COVID patients. It is a problem that has been repeated for every infectious disease. The government should develop an appropriate compensation scheme and infection management guidelines suitable for the Omicron variant to encourage local clinics’ participation. Even though the new variant has a low fatality rate, there will be more patients with critical symptoms if the number of patients soars. Sickbeds for critical patients should also be managed effectively.