People line up for COVID-19 tests at an outdoor testing facility in Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s daily COVID-19 infections on Thursday hit a fresh high of 27,443 amid the omicron wave, government data showed Friday.
The government also announced Friday that it has decided to extend the current social distancing restrictions for two more weeks until Feb. 20.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, the daily cases went up by 4,536 from the previous day’s 22,907. The cumulative total for confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country also reached 934,656 as of midnight Thursday.
The death toll from COVID-19 reached 6,836, up 24 from the previous day. The fatality rate was 0.73 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 257, down 17 from a day earlier.
Amid the omicron surge, at-home care patients continued to increase rapidly. During the 24 hours of Thursday, the number of patients who are receiving treatment at home increased by 7,721 from the previous day, raising the total to 104,857. The figure is nearing the country’s maximum capacity for those who are treated at home.
To counter the omicron surge, the country will extend current social distancing rules for two more weeks, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters meeting on Friday.
The restrictions were supposed to end Sunday, but will run through Feb. 20 with the latest announcement.
Under the curbs, private gatherings will be limited to six people, and 9 p.m. curfews will continue to be enforced at local restaurants, cafes and other businesses.
Kim said the government understands that small businesses have been left reeling under the economic fallouts from the pandemic. However, he noted that slowing down the spread of the omicron variant is a priority, particularly since it cannot estimate how big an impact the five-day Lunar New Year holiday will have on infection numbers.
Kim said the government may make changes in social distancing rules in the following weeks based on the development of the omicron wave.
The government also said it decided to lower the age eligibility for COVID-19 treatment pills from 60 to 50 from Monday onward, in a bid to prevent the rise of serious cases.
By Shim Woo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org