Virus patients to face fines over info concealment

Jay Yim, March 9, 2020, 10:54 a.m.


South Korean health authorities warned Monday that any new coronavirus patients will face fines for concealing their travel history, residences and other important information.

The measure comes as a 78-year-old patient at a Seoul hospital was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sunday. But despite repeated inquiries, the virus patient misled the hospital staff and gave incorrect information about her residence and other details.

The patient, a resident in the southeastern city of Daegu -- the epicenter of the virus outbreak here -- also denied her multiple trips to the city during hospitalization.

Inje University Seoul Paik Hospital in downtown Seoul has temporarily closed its emergency room since Sunday.

"The government can impose fines under 10 million won if patients do not tell the truth about their travel history to health authorities," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a daily briefing. The amount is equivalent to US$8,296.

According to the hospital, the patient hid her residence as she was previously denied entry to another general hospital in Seoul.

Health authorities and hospital officials said they are looking into the patient's records and CCTV footage to check anyone who had contact with her. The hospital identified 150-160 people who may have come in contact with the woman, with 120 testing negative for the infection so far. This includes two people who used the same hosital room as the confirmed patient.

All medical staff and doctors who had previous contact are currently under self-quarantine, according to the hospital.

"Tests for the COVID-19 virus are conducted on any patient or medical staff suspected of having been in contact with the confirmed patient for the safety of all patients and staff," Oh Sang-hoon, a director at Paik Hospital, said.

Kim said the government will take administrative measures against hospitals that deny patients from Daegu without clear medical reasons.

In a written statement to reporters, National Police Agency chief Min Gab-ryong said police are looking into the case and will "swiftly and sternly" deal with any irregularities.

The police have so far received over 10,000 reports relating to the virus, according to Min. They are probing 20 cases that allegedly threatened public health, including 11 cases of people who ignored the government's self-isolation advisory.

In a separate press briefing, Seoul city government's civil health bureau director, Na Baeg-ju, said the city will look into the case and seek legal advice.

Na added that the patient did not show typical symptoms of the virus, such as fever.

The country had reported a total of 7,478 virus cases as of Monday, with an additional 96 cases identified between midnight Sunday and 4 p.m.

So far, 51 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in South Korea from the respiratory virus that emerged in China late last year, the KCDC said.

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