New infections in 5,000s for 2nd day amid omicron concerns

SEOUL-- South Korea's new coronavirus cases stayed above 5,000 for the second straight day Sunday after hitting an all-time high a day earlier amid concerns over the spread of the omicron variant.

The country added 5,128 new COVID-19 cases, including 5,104 local infections, raising the total caseload to 473,034, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Daily infections soared to a record high of 5,352 cases Saturday, one day after health authorities announced strict social distancing rules will take effect Monday for four weeks to contain the omicron variant.

As of 6 p.m. Sunday, health authorities and local governments had reported 2,311 new cases, down 465 from the same time the previous day. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

As of 12:00 a.m. Sunday, the KDCA had confirmed 12 omicron cases, up three from a day earlier.

Authorities are looking into three suspected omicron infections reported in Seoul, raising concerns over the spread of the variant in the capital city. The test results will be out Monday morning at the earliest, an official said.

The number of critically ill patients fell to 744 on Sunday from 752 a day earlier, while the death toll rose 43 to 3,852. The fatality rate stood at 0.81 percent.

Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 2,022 new cases, while 1,484 cases came from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 336 from Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul.

The number of cases from overseas came to 24, raising the total to 15,866.

The average number of daily infections came to 4,421 over the past week.

Health authorities are especially on high alert about the impact of the omicron strain.

The government has already tightened its eased social distancing rules, adjusting the pace of its "living with COVID-19" campaign.

Starting Monday till Jan. 2, the maximum number of people at private gatherings will be cut to six in the greater Seoul area and eight in other areas, from the current 10 and 12.

Visitors to high-risk businesses, including saunas, pubs and gyms, have to show vaccine passes or a negative coronavirus test result.

Restaurants, cafes, cram schools, movie theaters, public study rooms, libraries and museums are among the newly included places.

Those aged between 12 and 18 also will be required to meet the vaccine pass measures starting Feb. 1.

A one-week grace period for the vaccine pass system will be allowed before the rules are enforced.

Inbound travelers have to be put under a 10-day mandatory quarantine regardless of their vaccination status till Dec. 16.

About 80 percent of the hospital beds for critically ill patients are currently occupied across the country, with the bed occupancy rate exceeding 90 percent in the greater Seoul area. There are 954 patients waiting for beds in the capital area and 23 in other regions.

As of midnight Saturday, 14,944 patients were being treated at home nationwide.

On the vaccination front, 42.68 million people, or 83.1 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 41.34 million people, or 80.5 percent, have been fully vaccinated.

About 3.95 million people, or 7.7 percent of the population, have received a booster shot.

South Korea has signed deals with global pharmaceutical firms, including Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen, Novavax and AstraZeneca, to purchase a total of 195.3 million doses of coronavirus vaccines.

In the latest delivery, 2.48 million doses of Pfizer vaccines are expected to arrive at Incheon International Airport on Monday, bringing the accumulated vaccine arrivals to 99.62 million.

The government is in consultations with the companies over the time frame for the supply of the remaining vaccines.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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