Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks at a COVID-19 response meeting at Gyeonggi Provincial Government Office in Suwon, south of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases have surpassed 7,000 for the first time, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Wednesday, amid concerns over the omicron variant and the rising number of critical virus patients.
"In the capital area, where 80 percent of total cases are reported, we continue to add hospital beds with active cooperation from the medical community, but still it is tough to catch up with the pace of rising virus cases," Kim said at the government's COVID-19 response meeting.
The country's average daily number of coronavirus cases stayed in the 5,000s over the past week.
Kim said the government will enhance the at-home treatment system to secure sustainability of the country's medical response capability, which includes measures to expand workforce and improve patient management.
He added that oral COVID-19 medication will be provided to serious home-treatment patients from the beginning of 2022.
Mandatory quarantine period for family members or those living with virus patients opting for self-treatment at home will be reduced to seven days from 10 days and they will be given extra relief grants depending on the number of people per household.
Kim called for extensive epidemiological investigation and swift testing to contain the omicron variant believed to be more contagious than other variants. As of Tuesday, the country confirmed 36 omicron cases.
He also urged senior citizens to take booster shots and young people to complete their vaccinations.
"People aged 60 or older account for 35 percent of total cases and 84 percent of critically-ill virus patients," he said. "To increase vaccination of students, the authorities should prepare various support measures, including inoculation program at schools."
To curb infections, the government decided to enforce stricter social distancing rules and began to adjust the pace of its "living with COVID-19" campaign that calls for a gradual return to normalcy.
Starting Monday till Jan. 2, the maximum number of people at private gatherings will be cut to six in the greater Seoul area and eight in other areas, from the current 10 and 12.
Visitors to high-risk businesses, including saunas, pubs and gyms, have to show "quarantine pass," also known as "vaccine pass," to show they have been vaccinated or have a negative coronavirus test result.
"There lots of concerns that small merchants and self-employed people will get more anxious due to stricter quarantine rules initiated from this week," Kim said. "But we know from our past experience that if virus prevention falters then people's lives falter too." (Yonhap)