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Coronavirus: Doctors collapse from exhaustion as virus spreads through South Korea

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 03/03/2020 Julian Ryall
Many health workers in South Korea are at breaking point after fighting a rapid rise in cases - KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS © KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS Many health workers in South Korea are at breaking point after fighting a rapid rise in cases - KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS

The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in South Korea has soared to more than 4,800 overnight, with hospitals in some of the worst-affected cities reporting shortages of beds and emergency staff collapsing from exhaustion. 

Patients waiting for a hospital bed to become available in the city of Daegu are dying in their homes, local medical authorities told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. More than 1,600 people with the virus have been quarantined in their homes, but at least four have died while waiting for in-patient care. 

An 86-year-old woman who tested positive on February 28 and was also undergoing treatment for diabetes and hypertension could not be hospitalised and died two days later, the paper reported. 

The situation is particularly serious in Daegu, which has seen a spike in cases linked to worshippers from the Shincheonji religious group who had previously visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. 

The crisis is worsening as healthcare workers tire after battling the virus for a month. 

a group of people riding skis on a snowy road: Residents in Daegu wait in line to buy face masks on Tuesday - YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images © Provided by The Telegraph Residents in Daegu wait in line to buy face masks on Tuesday - YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images

A doctor at the medical centre at Keimyung University hospital collapsed due to fatigue earlier this week, officials said. Once he had regained consciousness, he returned to treating patients, the officials said, adding that more medical personnel are urgently needed in the city. 

Sixteen of the 100 nurses at the Pohang Medical Centre, in North Gyeongsang Province, resigned last week, citing overwork and personal reasons, including the need to take care of their children. 

The hospital has been designated by the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as a facility to exclusively handle coronavirus patients.

The provincial government has dispatched 15 replacement nurses, while the city has promised to provide 16 additional medical personnel, support workers and volunteers. 

People wait in a line to buy face masks at a retail store in the southeastern city of Daegu on February 25, 2020. - South Korea reported 60 more COVID-19 coronavirus cases on February 25, the smallest increase for four days in the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's morning updates. The country now has 893 cases. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images) People wait in a line to buy face masks at a retail store in the southeastern city of Daegu on February 25, 2020. - South Korea reported 60 more COVID-19 coronavirus cases on February 25, the smallest increase for four days in the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's morning updates. The country now has 893 cases. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

Nurses at other hospitals have also threatened to resign, with an official at nearby Andong Medical Centre saying the staff were “at their limit”. 

“Nurses at other hospitals could quit their jobs en masse soon if conditions do not change”, the official said. 

The local government on Monday announced that it was increasing wages until the public health crisis is over. Doctors are to receive the equivalent of an extra £361 a day, while nurses will get an additional £197. 

The South Korean Defence Ministry has announced that it will deploy an additional 750 doctors and medical staff to assist in civilian hospitals. More than 1,400 military doctors have already been sent to hospitals in cities struggling to contain the outbreak. 

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