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Infections exceed 100,000 for 3 days; expected to surge further

Government to provide additional 21 million self-test kits this week

A notice posted at a mall in Seoul on Sunday says customers no longer need to register when entering the premises. (Yonhap)
A notice posted at a mall in Seoul on Sunday says customers no longer need to register when entering the premises. (Yonhap)
Even on weekends when COVID-19 testing drops, the number of new confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 for three consecutive days and is expected to rise further in the coming weeks.

The government expects the pandemic to peak at the end of this month or early next month. It predicted that the new cases would rise to 180,000 in early March.

As of Saturday midnight, there were 104,829 new infections and the number of critically ill patients increased by 31 from the previous day to 439.

The number of severely ill patients, which remained in the 200s from the end of January to the middle of this month, exceeded 400 from Friday. The bed occupancy rate for severe COVID-19 patients across the country continued to increase, exceeding 30 percent of the total 2,651. Authorities predict that critically ill patients could exceed 1,000 and go up to 2,500 in early March.

An additional 51 deaths were reported. Although the number decreased by 20 from the previous day when 71 people died, the figure is still higher than 39 on Wednesday, 36 on Thursday and 45 on Friday. The cumulative death toll reached 7,405, and the fatality rate was 0.39 percent.

The number of people receiving treatment at home for COVID, those who have reported mild symptoms, climbed to 450,493 nationwide Saturday, an increase of more than 49,000 from a day earlier.

The government has urged the public to use self-test kits to test for COVID-19 instead of visiting clinics.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said Sunday an additional 21 million self-test kits would be supplied to 75,000 retailers nationwide this week.

Last week, 19 million kits were supplied to pharmacies and convenience stores, but they could not keep up with the surge in demand.

“We will continue to actively cooperate with manufacturers to increase production so that individuals can purchase kits at a timely and affordable price,” the ministry said. “There is no need for individuals to stockpile kits in advance. They can get free tests at screening clinics.”

Despite the surge, the government has relaxed social distancing measures since Saturday.

Restaurants, cafes, singing practice rooms, public baths, indoor sports facilities and entertainment facilities are allowed to operate until 10 p.m., an hour longer than the previous 9 p.m. curfew. Private gatherings are limited to a maximum of six people as before. The government plans to keep the measure in place until March 13, but if a crisis such as a collapse of the medical system occurs, it will immediately strengthen the rules, authorities have said.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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