South Korea’s daily coronavirus cases surpassed 5,000 for the first time in 20 days as the omicron variant began to spread rapidly.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s announcement on Wednesday, the country added 5,805 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Tuesday, raising the total to 705,902. The figure was 1,733 up from that of the previous day.
The figure went over 5,000 for the first time in 20 days since it reached 5,034 on Dec. 30.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients as of midnight Tuesday reached 532, while the country added reported 74 COVID-19 deaths. The fatality rate came to 0.91 percent.
“(The omicron variant of coronavirus) is spreading quickly. Currently, 1 out of 4 patients is infected with the omicron variant,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a videoconference of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, Wednesday.
Kim added that the government expects the omicron variant to become the dominant coronavirus strain here this week and that the number of daily COVID-19 cases will increase rapidly.
Kim urged more people to receive booster shots against COVID-19.
“Vaccination is still an effective countermeasure against the omicron variant,“ he said
As of midnight Tuesday, 43.63 million people -- 85 percent of the country’s population of 52 million -- have been fully vaccinated, while 24 million, or 46.8 percent, have received booster shots.
Kim stressed that it was important to increase vaccination rates among adolescents, as the omicron variant poses an imminent threat to public health.
The number of under-18s newly confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus on Tuesday reached 1,459, accounting for 26.9 percent of the total.
Starting Wednesday, patients infected with the omicron variant can be treated from home, the Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea said.
Omicron patients at a higher risk of serious infection -- including older adults and people with underlying diseases -- will still be advised to be hospitalized.
According to the government’s data, a total of 17,283 COVID-19 patients were being treated from home as of midnight Tuesday. The figure includes patients infected with the delta variant.
The government has arranged for a total of 346 medical institutions to take care of patients being treated at home, as well as 47 medical centers that provide ambulatory care.
Meanwhile, the government said it would allow patients who show vaccine side effects to be exempt from the country’s controversial vaccine pass mandate.
On Monday, the government lifted the vaccine pass system at several multipurpose facilities, including department stores, large discount stores, cinemas and cram schools, after a court suspended its application.
Those facilities where the vaccine pass mandate is still effective include cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, indoor gyms, public bathhouses and internet cafes.
By Shim Woo-hyun (email@example.com