(2nd LD) Daily infections over 4,000 for 2nd day; imported cases hit record high

오석민 / 2022-01-13 14:48:53
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(2nd LD) coronavirus-additional cases
▲ A health worker prepares to conduct COVID-19 tests at a makeshift testing station in Seoul on Jan. 12, 2022, amid a cold wave.

▲ A trial run is held at a drugstore in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, on Jan. 12, 2022, for the country's planned prescription and administration of COVID-19 treatment pills that will begin on Jan. 14, starting with patients with a weak immune system and those over the age of 65. (Yonhap)

▲ An official in protective gear waits for incoming travelers at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 12, 2022. (Yonhap)

(2nd LD) coronavirus-additional cases

(2nd LD) Daily infections over 4,000 for 2nd day; imported cases hit record high

(ATTN: ADDS latest info on confirmed cases, oral pills arrival, comments in paras 5-7, 11-12, 14)

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily coronavirus cases stayed above 4,000 for the second consecutive day Thursday, deepening concerns over a possible resurgence amid the continued spread of the omicron variant.

The country added 4,167 new COVID-19 infections, including 3,776 local infections, raising the total caseload to 679,030, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Thursday's tally is down from 4,385 the previous day, when the figure bounced back to 4,000 from the 3,000 level in about a week.

The number of imported cases hit an all-time high of 391 on Thursday, beating the previous record of 380 logged the previous day, amid the fast spread of the variant in the world, according to the KDCA.

Of the imported cases, 67.8 percent were from the United States. The authorities called for extra caution on those who attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, as infections linked to the event had grown to 119 as of Thursday, and contact tracing is still under way.

To stem the inflow of the omicron variant from overseas, the health authorities decided to toughen rules on the proof of negative test results for entrants, and to secure more accommodations for entrants for their self-isolation.

"Rather than seeking an entry ban on entrants from specific nations, it is more crucial to reduce exemptions from self-isolation to a minimum level," health ministry official Son Young-rae said.

The country reported 44 more COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 6,210, according to the health authorities. The fatality rate came to 0.91 percent.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients stood at 701, staying below 800 for the fourth straight day, the KDCA said.

The virus situation has showed signs of slowing down in recent weeks thanks to the tightened antivirus restrictions and the active campaign for booster shots, but the health authorities have remained vigilant due to the fast spread of the omicron variant.

"The omicron variant is expected to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in South Korea within one to two weeks," the official Son told reporters.

Currently, around 12 percent of the total cases were found to have been caused by the omicron variant, but the figure will likely grow to over 50 percent, the official said, adding that the spread of the variant would push up the number of total infections to become a starting point of the fifth wave of the pandemic.

Of imported cases, more than 80 percent were found to have been infected with the omicron variant on average, the KDCA said.

Earlier in the day, the first batch of U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc.'s Paxlovid antiviral COVID-19 treatment pills arrived in South Korea, according to the public health authorities.

The oral pills for 21,000 people will begin being administered Friday to patients with a compromised immune system and those aged over 65, with the second batch for 10,000 people to be shipped by the end of this month, they added.

South Korea has secured Pfizer's medication for 762,000 people, as well as oral pills made by U.S. drugmaker's MSD for 242,000 people.

As of Thursday, 43.3 million people, or 84.4 percent of the country's 52 million population, have been fully vaccinated, and 22.1 million, or 43.1 percent, have received booster shots, the health authorities said.

On Wednesday, South Korea also authorized the use of U.S.-based biotechnology company Novavax Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to be used as early as next month. The authorities said this "classic" type of vaccine could encourage more unvaccinated people to consider getting a shot and further boost the country's overall vaccination rate.

The government plans to announce its decision Friday on whether to extend the current social distancing rules, which went into effect in mid-December in the wake of a drastic surge in infections and will expire Sunday.

Some have raised the possibility of the rules being relaxed, but officials say the current curbs are likely to be extended for at least two weeks, citing concerns over an uptick around the Lunar New Year holiday later this month.

Of the locally transmitted cases, 66.9 percent were from the metropolitan region. Seoul reported 868, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the city of Incheon, west of Seoul, added 1,444 and 224 new cases, respectively.

(END)

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