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S Korea building container hospital beds as COVID cases rebound | South Korea

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Resurgence of infections rekindle concerns about an acute shortage of hospital beds as 3,000 cases were reported in the last week.

South Korea authorities were scrambling on Thursday to build temporary hospitals in shipping containers to alleviate medical facilities stretched by the latest coronavirus wave, as the government warned that the resurgence was “accelerating” nationwide.

Authorities have also increased the number of residential treatment centres and clinics fully dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds.

On Thursday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 682 new virus cases – most of them in the greater area of the capital Seoul.

Eight additional coronavirus deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 564, according to the Yonhap news agency.

While new cases showed a slight decrease from 686 on Wednesday, health authorities noted that the number was still the third-highest since January, when the country’s first case was reported.

More than 3,000 new infections have been identified across the country during the past week.

Of that number, patients with serious symptoms increased to 172, compared with 149 on Wednesday.

‘All-out efforts’

The resurgence of infections has rekindled concerns about an acute shortage of hospital beds, prompting Seoul city to begin installing container beds for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Health authorities also plan to step up testing by opening temporary sites at some 150 locations across the greater Seoul area.

“We’re making all-out efforts to stop the spread in the Seoul metropolitan area by mobilising all available resources,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a meeting on Thursday.

“Above all, we will secure sufficient treatment centres and hospital beds for critical cases so that they can receive proper treatment in a timely manner.”

Health authorities have increased the number of residential treatment centres and clinics fully dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds [File: Ahn Young-joon/AP]

New cases have remained about 600 during the past week, driven by smaller, harder-to-trace clusters in the densely populated capital. The earlier two waves were centred on a handful of groups or regions.

As virus infections continued to rise, health authorities are urging people to follow the enhanced social distancing guidelines which took effect in greater Seoul on Tuesday. The country’s Central Disease Control Headquarters has also said it will be expanding the number of people being tested for the virus.

In addition, health authorities have expanded the number of residential treatment centres and clinics dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds.

South Korea this week announced it had reached agreements to buy vaccines for 44 million people, nearly 90 percent of the country’s population.

“The end of a long tunnel [in the anti-virus fight] is seen at last,” President Moon Jae-in said.

South Korea will be able to begin vaccination in February or March 2021, when the initial batch of vaccines is expected to arrive.

But Moon also warned that it is still too early to be complacent.



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COVID: How has the UK managed to master the vaccine roll-out? | Coronavirus pandemic News

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London, United Kingdom – When Ayesha Sharieff, a general practitioner in a south London surgery, administered the first COVID vaccines to her patients earlier this month, she was overjoyed.

“It was the best afternoon I’ve spent for a long time,” said Sharieff, who has been a doctor for 20 years. “After all these tough times we’ve been through recently, it was such a pleasure. I wanted to jump on top of my car and honk the horn.”

Each day, Sharieff and her team vaccinate up to 300 patients, currently focusing on elderly people from the area’s diverse urban population as a priority, as part of the United Kingdom’s rapid vaccine roll-out.

“I recently vaccinated a Caribbean nurse working in infectious diseases who must have been 88,” said Sharieff. “It just felt like such an honour to be doing that for her. I had tears in my eyes.”

The UK has earned cautious early praise for its vaccine roll-out, which has seen it produce double the number of vaccinations per person per day of any other European country.

This marks a significant turnaround because with the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, the UK government faces high levels of criticism for failing to contain the virus.

The UK became the first Western country to license a COVID-19 vaccine on December 2 when the medicines regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

More than six million people in the UK have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to date, as part of the largest vaccination programme in British history. The National Health Service (NHS) has vaccinated more than half of those aged 80 and over and more than half of elderly care home residents, both considered priorities, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Once those priorities have been treated, the UK will offer the vaccine to everyone over 50 and then everyone aged over 18.

‘Flexible, scalable system’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has said it plans to offer a first dose of vaccine to every adult in Britain, who make up 51 million of its total 67.5 million population, by September.

It will soon begin a trial of 24-hour injections as it continues to add more vaccination sites to increase the pace of delivery.

Good logistics planning and significant financial investment have underpinned the early positive vaccination numbers, according to Sarah Schiffling, a supply chains expert at Liverpool John Moores University.

“We can’t underestimate the fact the UK is devoting nearly £12 billion to the purchase, manufacture and roll-out of the vaccine,” she told Al Jazeera. “But the UK is seeing the benefit of having a coordinated approach. It’s started out really well and gotten up to quite a volume of patients vaccinated very quickly and that is very promising.”

Schiffling believes the centralised nature of the NHS as well the UK’s “far-reaching delivery network” – which spans from local GPs to mass vaccination centres – has also played a key role. “It’s a flexible, scalable system and that’s been working really well so far,” she explained.

The NHS, unlike some countries that have a federal approach, has departments already in place for bulk purchasing, says Schiffling, and the UK invested quickly into materials such as syringes that are now in high demand.

“One system can work along the supply chain, and that’s worked to the UK’s advantage here,” she said.

UK adopts first dose strategy

The UK became the first Western country to license a COVID-19 vaccine on December 2 when the medicines regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Since then, it has also approved vaccines produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna, but doses of the latter are not expected for months.

But unlike other nations, the UK has decided to increase the time between vaccine doses given to people from 21 days to up to 12 weeks, a decision that is thought to mean more people will get their first dose more quickly.

“The UK has prioritised getting people the first doses,” said Mark Jit, a professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “This has enabled more people to be vaccinated quickly. From what we know about vaccines, the first dose gives quite good protection, especially with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. It’s not that the second dose will be dropped entirely.”

Professor Jit says the UK’s history of previous successful campaigns has also helped the rapid roll-out.

“The UK has an advantage because it has a long history of successful vaccine introductions,” he said, pointing to the introduction of the Shingles vaccine to adults in 2013, the HPV vaccine for adolescents in 2008 and national flu campaigns. “Part of it is also good communication, so there is good public confidence in vaccines.”

Johnson poses for a photograph with a vial of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 candidate vaccine in Wrexham, Wales, on November 30, 2020 [File: Paul Ellis/Pool via Reuters]

But Jit added that while success in the UK’s vaccine roll-out is good news, the issue will persist while all countries still need vaccine supplies.

“This is a global issue and the pandemic won’t be solved until we address those worldwide concerns,” he said.

With England in a third national lockdown since January 2 after a highly transmissible variant helped push the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 to record highs, for some, vaccination can’t come any sooner.

The UK is now rapidly approaching 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths, marking the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth-highest number worldwide, and some 50,000 health workers are off work due to COVID-19 infections and exposure quarantines.

“This vaccine roll-out has been one of the most uplifting things in my career,” said Sharieff, the GP. “But as it continues we will have to vaccinate larger, more diverse patient groups. We need to make sure everyone is protected equally.”



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