SEOUL: South Korea reported a record 400,741 new daily COVID-19 cases, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Wednesday (Mar 16), as the country seeks to further ease social distancing rules despite a wave of Omicron infections.
According to the Associated Press, the country recorded its deadliest day yet of the pandemic on Tuesday, with 293 deaths reported.
South Korean health officials said medical response remains stable following efforts to expand resources, with more than 30 per cent of intensive care units designated for COVID-19 treatment still available.
But the strain on the hospital system is expected to increase in the coming weeks, considering the time lags between infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
Senior Health Ministry official Park Hyang said because of high vaccination rates, the country has so far weathered the omicron surge with lower levels of fatalities than what was seen in the United States and Europe, which was hit by the variant earlier.
More than 62 per cent of South Koreans have received booster shots.
Health officials have recently significantly eased quarantine restrictions and border controls and stopped requiring adults to show proof of vaccination or negative tests when entering potentially crowded spaces like restaurants so that more public and health workers could respond to rapidly expanding at-home treatments.
The country has also reshaped its testing regime to be centered around rapid antigen tests, despite concerns over their accuracy, to save laboratory tests mostly for high-risk groups.
More than 1.6 million virus carriers with mild or moderate symptoms have been asked to isolate at home to save hospital space, the KDCA said.
South Korea will also begin a vaccine rollout for children between the ages of five and 11 later this month, said AP.