The total COVID infections in South Korea topped 10 million, nearly 20 per cent of its population, authorities announced on Wednesday (March 23), as the increasing number of severe cases and deaths continues to put a strain on funeral homes and crematories across the country.
The nation has been fighting a record coronavirus wave driven by the highly contagious Omicron COVID variant even as it largely scrapped its once aggressive quarantine efforts and tracing and eased its social distancing curbs.
South Korea COVID Outbreak!
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 490,881 cases on March 22, the second-highest daily tally after it had peaked at 621,205 earlier on March 16. Meanwhile, the total COVID caseload went up to 10,427,247, with 13,432 deaths by 291 a day before.
The nation's death and infection rates are currently far below those being recorded elsewhere, as nearly 87 per cent of its 52 million residents are fully vaccinated and 63 per cent have already received booster doses, reported Reuters.
However, the death toll from the novel virus has almost doubled in approximately six weeks, with daily fatalities reaching 429 last week, resulting in an increase in demand for funeral arrangements.
On March 21, the South Korean government instructed the 60 crematories across the country to operate for a longer period of time every day to burn up to seven bodies from five. Furthermore, the 1,136 funeral parlours, capable of storing some 8,700 bodies, expand their facilities as well.
"We've discussed ways to reinforce the crematories to reduce public inconvenience," health ministry official Son Young-rae was quoted as saying by the news agency in their above-mentioned report.
Already, authorities have increased the combined daily cremation capacity to 1,400 per day from about 1,000 starting last week. However, the official added a massive backlog of dead bodies, and an elongated cue continued to be reported in the densely populated greater Seoul area.
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Statistics from the health ministry revealed that the 28 crematories in Seoul city were operating at a capacity of 114.2 per cent as of March 21. The ratio stood at approximately 83 per cent in other parts of the country, such as Jeju and Sejong.
Son said that crematories would be temporarily allowed to receive reservations from outside their regions to ease the pileup, which some local governments currently ban.
Another health ministry official Park Hyang said that the number of critically ill patients has been hovering above 1,000 over the past two weeks, but it could go up to 2,000 in early April.
Nearly 64.4 per cent of the intensive care unit beds are occupied as of March 23, compared with some 59 per cent two weeks before.
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