SEOUL, July 31 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea’s new COVID-19 cases fell below 80,000 for the first time in about a week, but the number of seriously ill patients hit a two-month high amid a virus wave driven by a highly contagious omicron subvariant, according to the nation’s health authorities Sunday.
The country added 73,589 new COVID-19 infections, including 341 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 19,776,050, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Sunday’s figure is down from the previous day’s 82,002 due mainly to fewer tests on the weekend, with the daily count falling constantly since Wednesday.
It is still larger than the 65,373 new cases logged a week earlier, nearly doubling in two weeks, while the country is battling the coronavirus resurgence attributable to the omicron subvariant BA.5.
As of 9 p.m. Sunday, the country had reported 42,883 additional cases, according to health authorities and provincial governments. Daily virus cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
The growth in new infections led to the surge in the number of seriously ill patients as well.
The KDCA confirmed 284 critical cases Sunday, up from 242 a day earlier. It marked the highest figure since May 18 when the tally stood at 313.
It reported 20 related fatalities, raising the death toll to 25,047.
The KDCA has said the current virus wave could peak at around 200,000 infections a day, lower than the previous prediction, given the weaker-than-expected spread of the subvariant.
Despite the resurgence, the government has also made it clear that it is not considering a rollback of strict antivirus restrictions, such as tighter social distancing and business hour curfews, as it is capable of managing the situation under the current medical system.
But experts have voiced concerns over “hidden” cases, as there appear to be some people who are shunning virus tests and others dismissing positive results from self-test kits amid an increased financial burden on individuals for tests and treatment and other inconveniences.
In April, the government stopped providing free rapid antigen tests at state-run testing centers, and citizens are required to pay for the tests at local clinics.
Those showing symptoms must pay about 5,000 won (US$3.83) for a test, and those without symptoms must pay around 50,000 won.
The country has now fewer makeshift stations for free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, and the government has reduced state subsidies for patients.
President Yoon Suk-yeol has called on the health authorities to come up with measures to minimize people’s inconvenience, such as providing more test centers and support for high testing costs, as well as securing enough updated vaccines, treatments and hospital beds.