SEOUL, Feb. 17 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea’s daily COVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000 for the first time Thursday, as the highly transmissible omicron variant fueled a surge of infections around the country.
According to health authorities and local governments, a total of 100,870 cases had been confirmed nationwide as of 9 p.m., up 10,642 from the 90,228 posted the same time the previous day, which was the largest-ever number for that time.
The total number for Thursday is expected to rise further as daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
Earlier in the day, the country reported 93,135 new COVID-19 infections for Wednesday, including 93,045 local cases, raising the total caseload to 1,645,978, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
It was the second straight day cases exceeded 90,000 to hit another record high amid concerns that the peak of the current wave has yet to come amid the fast spread of the omicron variant.
The number of daily cases rose sharply Wednesday to surpass the 90,000 level for the first time ever, coming to 90,443 from the previous day’s 57,164, with a majority of infections being caused by the omicron variant.
The daily tally nearly doubled in a week, and it grew by more than fourfold compared with two weeks ago.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 7,238, up 36 from Wednesday. The fatality rate was 0.44 percent, the KDCA said.
Health authorities presented a bleak outlook over COVID-19 cases, saying that daily infections could reach 170,000 by around the end of this month. A state-run science institute forecast that the figure could rise to as high as 360,000 early next month.
Professor Shim Eun-ha of Seoul’s Soongsil University said that the current wave is expected to peak at around 270,000 in mid-March, some seven weeks after omicron became the dominant strain in South Korea.
Amid the spike in COVID-19 cases, the number of critically ill patients is also on the rise.
The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients came to 389, up 76 from a day earlier and marking the fourth straight day that the tally stayed above 300. Health authorities have warned of a possible uptick in serious cases in a couple of weeks.
Intensive care unit beds for critically ill patients were 28.5 percent occupied nationwide. It has been at a stable level, but concerns over a possible shortage linger as the total infections have grown at a fast pace.
Currently, the country has a capacity of treating up to around 2,000 patients in critical condition, according to the KDCA.
Despite the unprecedented wave of infections, the government has been reviewing options to ease the current strict social distancing rules to minimize their impact on small businesses.
A senior government official told Yonhap News Agency health authorities met Thursday and discussed relaxing the current 9 p.m. curfew on restaurant and cafe business hours to 10 p.m.
The authorities also discussed implementing the updated measures for three weeks instead of the usual two weeks to last through the March 9 presidential election until March 13.
The current regime, which also includes a maximum private gathering size of six people, is set to end Sunday.
The government initially weighed expanding the private gathering size to a maximum eight people but appeared to have stopped short amid the surge in cases in recent days.
The government will announce whether it will ease the antivirus curbs Friday.
As of Thursday, 29.9 million people, or 58.3 percent of the country’s 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.26 million, accounting for 86.2 percent, the KDCA said.
The country added one more death among teenagers following vaccination, as a 16-year-old male died last week after being fully vaccinated, bringing the total number of such cases among this age group to seven.
The KDCA said an investigation is under way to find any linkage between his death and the vaccination.
Of the locally transmitted cases reported Thursday, Seoul reported 19,678 new cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western city of Incheon added 28,438 and 7,235 new patients, respectively.
Combined, the greater Seoul area accounted for 59.5 percent of the country’s total infections.
The number of patients receiving at-home treatment also rose to a fresh high of 314,565 Thursday, topping 300,000 for the first time.
The KDCA earlier said that around 10 percent of the COVID-19 patients have received treatment at hospitals or community treatment centers, with the remainder being treated at home, a move to effectively handle the drastic surge in infections and to better focus on serious cases.