(ATTENTION: UPDATES with count starting at 6 pm in the 8th paragraph)
SEOUL, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) — Daily coronavirus cases in South Korea soared to the second highest figure since the pandemic broke out on Sunday, putting health authorities on alert amid of the rapid spread of the omicron variant.
The country added 7,630 new COVID-19 infections, including 7,343 local infections, bringing the total number of cases to 733,902, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Sunday’s figure marks the second-largest tally since the daily record of 7,848 on Dec. 15.
The daily tally rose at a rapid pace last week from the 4,000 level to over 6,000 on Thursday and over 7,000 on Saturday, nearly doubling in less than a week.
It also marks the highest number of daily cases reported in a weekend. The daily load of virus cases typically decreases on weekends and holidays due to fewer virus tests.
The country reported 11 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 6,540. The mortality rate reached 0.89 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients stood at 431, the KDCA said.
As of 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, the country had reported 4,415 new cases of COVID-19, 376 fewer than at the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and municipal governments. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
Health authorities have warned of a resurgence in the number of infections as the highly transmissible omicron variant could become the dominant variant of COVID-19 in South Korea.
With the daily count exceeding 7,000 on Saturday, authorities are expected to switch to a new medical response system as planned to handle the pandemic flexibly.
Under the new system, rapid antigen tests will be introduced at COVID-19 testing centers to produce faster results, while polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be reserved for high-risk groups.
The self-quarantine period for patients will also be shortened from the current 10 days to seven, the KDCA said.
The detection rate of the omicron variant reached 47.1 percent last week, and is likely to account for more than half of all infections this week, the KDCA said earlier.
Amid Omicron’s deepening troubles, the government has implemented tighter anti-virus restrictions, including a 9pm curfew on restaurants and cafes, which has been in place since mid-December and will remain in effect until 6 December. February.
Currently, the limit on the size of private gatherings is set at six, and the immunization drive-through program is required at various types of multi-use facilities, including cafes, restaurants, and sports arenas.
Last week, the government also began implementing additional anti-virus steps ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. This year’s Lunar New Year falls on February 1 and the holiday lasts until February 2.
The public health agency has banned face-to-face meetings at nursing facilities during the special two-week quarantine period that began last Thursday, though it allows contactless meetings only after prior reservations.
Dining at highway service areas will be banned, the KDCA said, adding that nine temporary COVID-19 testing stations will be set up at highway rest areas and at bus and train stations across the country. .
Of the local transmission cases, 66.6 percent were from the metropolitan region. Seoul reported 1,634, with the surrounding province of Gyeonggi and the western port city of Incheon adding 2,667 and 589 new cases, respectively.
The number of imported cases was counted at 287, bringing the total number of imported cases to 23,400.
As of Sunday, 43.8 million people, or 85.4 percent of the country’s 52 million people, have been fully vaccinated, and 25.23 million, or 49.2 percent, have received vaccinations. booster, health authorities said.