SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea’s daily virus cases hit another high Sunday, exceeding 38,000, as the highly transmissible omicron variant rages across the country following a holiday season.
The country reported 38,691 new COVID-19 infections, including 38,502 local cases, raising the total to 1,009,688, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The accumulated virus caseload surpassed 1 million on Sunday, two years after the country reported its first COVID-19 case.
The daily tally surged to over 30,000 for the first time on Saturday, just three days after breaking the 20,000 mark. The figure topped the 10,000 level for the first time on Jan. 26.
New daily cases have soared by more than five-fold over the past two weeks, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Daily cases are feared to possibly reach 100,000 in the coming weeks following the three-day Lunar New Year holiday, which ended Wednesday, according to the health authorities.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 6,873, up 15 from Saturday. The fatality rate was 0.68 percent.
The latest figure includes the country’s first COVID-19 death among teenagers, as a 16-year-old highschooler in the southwestern city of Gwangju died Saturday while receiving treatment.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was 272, down three from a day earlier, the KDCA said.
As of 9 p.m., the country had added 27,710 new COVID-19 cases, up 909 from the same time the previous day and the highest tally ever for the time, according to health authorities and city governments.
Daily figures are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
It took the longest period of time for South Korea to reach a total caseload of 1 million among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member nations with a similar population size, according to the KDCA.
Colombia took 233 days, followed by Spain taking 264 days, Canada 435 days and Australia 715 days.
South Korea’s number of total COVID-19 patients out of every 1 million people came to 18,217, which is the lowest among 38 OECD nations, excluding New Zealand, the authorities said.
At-home care patients rose 10,684 from the previous day to a total of 128,716 on Sunday. The authorities earlier said that the country’s maximum care capacity for those treated at home came to 106,000.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 7,778 new cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western city of Incheon added 11,924 and 2,227 new patients, respectively.
Cases from overseas rose 189 to 26,339, the health authorities said.
As of Saturday, 28.17 million people, or 54.9 percent of the country’s 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.11 million people, accounting for 86.0 percent.
In an effort to curb the virus, the government decided to extend the current toughened social distancing curbs for two more weeks starting on Monday through Feb. 20.
Under the scheme, private gatherings of more than six people are banned and businesses are subject to a 9 p.m. curfew.
The vaccine pass program will remain in effect at 11 kinds of multiuse facilities, including restaurants, cafes, sports arenas, which requires people to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results when entering those facilities.
As for other facilities exempted from the campaign, such as department stores and cram schools, the government decided to enforce a new set of antivirus steps starting Monday.
The measures include limiting the total number of users and banning any events or eating inside, according to the authorities.
The government will also lower the age of eligibility for COVID-19 treatment pills from 60 to 50 starting Monday.
The number of hospitals and local clinics designated for conducting rapid antigen tests will grow to 779 starting Monday from the current 482, according to the authorities.
Last week, the government began allowing medical clinics to carry out COVID-19 tests in a move to effectively deal with the virus situation.
Under the new system, only those who test positive in rapid antigen tests will be able to receive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in principle.
People aged over 60 or in high-risk groups, such as those with underlying health conditions, will be prioritized for PCR tests.
More local clinics are expected to join the program, as a total of 1,938 local clinics have applied for participation, the KDCA said.