From former epicenter to zero cases, S. Korea’s Daegu vows lessons won’t go unlearned
SEOUL — Korea’s initial epicenter Daegu is faring better than most parts of the country in the midst of a coronavirus resurgence.
For the whole month of November, as a third big wave of the coronavirus began to sweep across the country, Daegu managed to maintain a single-digit rise in daily new infections. No new cases were found for six November days. When the nationwide tally shot up to 569 cases Friday, Daegu was the only region in Korea to report zero cases.
Only 391 cases out of Daegu’s total of 7,243 have been diagnosed after April, when the peak was brought down to double-digit figures. Nearly 60 percent of the city’s total cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church, which remains to date Korea’s largest cluster of infections.
Kim Jae-dong, 58, the city’s public health director, said one of the first things the city did as the infection rate subsided was to prepare for the next surge. “There is going to be another wave, experts kept warning us,” he said. “We might not have been prepared for the first, but we’re determined not to let this happen a second time.”
He said the city has planned for a scenario of infections rising beyond twice the levels seen in February and March.
The worst-case preparations involve expanding testing and health care capacity. Daegu is now equipped to test over 6,100 people a day, and has room to house up to 1,200 patients at hospitals, in addition to the 2,700 beds at nonhospital facilities for patients with mild or no symptoms.
While hospitals elsewhere in the country are straining under a steep influx of patients, only 35 coronavirus beds in Daegu were filled as of Monday. With beds to spare, Daegu is now taking in patients from other cities and provinces experiencing active outbreaks.
Some 20 patients arrived from Busan and 40 others came from the North and South Gyeongsang provinces on Monday, Kim said, as well as an intensive care patient from South Jeolla Province.
“We are more than happy to accommodate them and return the help Daegu received when it was the epicenter of Korea’s epidemic,” he said.
In spring this year, about 2,080 health care workers from around the country traveled to Daegu to help. Protective equipment and other donations came in from over 1,200 groups and individuals.
Kim said experts were always present at Daegu’s office at the time as the city coordinated its response. Over the past year, Daegu officials have held over 40 rounds of meetings with experts, the most recent of which was held last week.
Kim also cited cooperation from the public as the quintessential element of Daegu’s recovery.
“I think we have very high levels of compliance with safety rules, perhaps because the wounds are still fresh for many here,” he said. “People wouldn’t take their masks off even in the steaming heat of summer.”
“None of this would be possible without each citizen doing his or her part to slow the spread.”
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