South Korea launches 'drive-thru' coronavirus testing facilities as demand soars

Medical staff wearing protective gear take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the coronavirus, at a "drive-through" virus test facility in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Feb 29, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - From inside his car, a driver is checked for any fever or breathing difficulties by medical staff in protective clothing and goggles who lean in through the window at a new drive-thru coronavirus clinic in South Korea.

He drove off after the brief test showed he was clear.

Others queueing in their vehicles in the city of Goyang were instructed to stop briefly to submit a sample of secretions for closer examination, with the entire procedure taking less than 10 minutes.

"I initially went to a community health centre and had to wait more than one hour, so this is easier and faster," the first driver told local broadcaster YTN.

None of the drivers nor medical workers gave their names, the stigma of even being tested making people cautious.

A growing number of local governments in South Korea are launching the roadside testing facilities this week, as demand soars for checks and increasing waiting times raise the risk of infection.

South Korea's coronavirus case total - the largest in the world outside China - approached 5,000 on Tuesday (March 3) as authorities reported 477 new cases.

The temporary testing facility in Goyang, about 16km north-west of capital Seoul, was opened last week at a public parking lot as more than 100 residents seek to get tested every day, the city said in a statement.

Goyang has not been badly hit so far, with just four patients, but sudden and rapid surges in infections in recent days have stoked fears of a nationwide transmission.

The majority of cases in South Korea are from the south-eastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the centre of the country's outbreak, which has also opened a drive-thru facility.

Other cities, including Incheon and Sejong, have launched their own drive-thru testing clinics, while others plan to introduce one in the near future.

The facilities can cut testing time by as much as a third, officials said.

"Here we can test many people within a short period of time in a less crowded manner, and there are lower risks of infection because it's done inside the car," Kim An-hyun, chief of the Goyang community health centre, told local broadcaster MBC.

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