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S. Korea's new COVID-19 cases top 17,500 as omicron rages

People wait in line for coronavirus tests at a pop-up screening clinic in front of Seoul Station on Friday. (Yonhap)
People wait in line for coronavirus tests at a pop-up screening clinic in front of Seoul Station on Friday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases reached yet another record high Saturday, driven by a rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant, with a new nationwide virus response system coming into force.

The country reported 17,542 new COVID-19 infections, including 17,349 local cases, raising the total to 811,122, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.  

The daily count broke the record for the fifth consecutive day, spiking from 8,570 on Tuesday.

The death toll from COVID-19 came to 6,712, up 34 from Friday.

The fatality rate stood at 0.83 percent.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was 288, down 28 from the previous day.   

The public health agency said the infection tally could surge to as many as 100,000 a day in the next several weeks.

South Korea introduced a revised virus response system Saturday to tackle the omicron wave.

Some 250 testing stations set up at public health centers and large hospitals will begin using both rapid antigen self-tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. People can choose which one they want to take.

People aged over 60 or in high-risk groups, such as those with underlying illnesses, will be prioritized for PCR tests.

Beginning Thursday, local hospitals and clinics will also administer self-test kits.

The KDCA said the revised regime is designed to minimize critical cases and deaths, while preventing an overload and collapse of the medical system.

The system will expand nationwide after the three-day Lunar New Year holiday running till Wednesday.

Of the locally transmitted cases Friday, Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 5,588 new COVID-19 cases, followed by Seoul with 4,166 and the western port city of Incheon with 1,599.

As of Saturday, 26.85 million people, or 52.3 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots, the KDCA said. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 43.97 million people, accounting for 85.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it will begin supplying 9.6 million self-test kits to online shopping malls and pharmacies Saturday for one week.

Another 6.86 million self-test kits will be supplied to testing stations, the ministry said.

The ministry said it will strictly crack down on illegal hoarding of self-test kits. (Yonhap)
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