South Korea reported its first five cases on Wednesday, according to the Omicron version, as daily coronavirus infections topped 5,000 for the first time, officials said, expressing concern over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria, followed by two members of their family and a friend.
South Korea’s daily COVID-19 tally reached 5,123.
The surge began in early November after the country eased restrictions. The new version prompted the government on Monday to shelve plans for further easing.
South Korea also said on Wednesday that a UN peacekeeping conference would now be held online, with more than 700 people expected to visit Seoul next week.
The country has fully vaccinated about 92% of adults and is now focusing on immunizing children and a booster program, but experts warn that unless uninfected people gain immunity through infection Till then the cases will keep on increasing.
“Officials can reduce the number of cases by reintroducing some social distancing measures,” said Jang Jae-hyun, professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University.
South Korea said hospitals were treating 723 patients with severe COVID-19, a record number.
About 90% of intensive care unit beds in the greater Seoul area are occupied, with 842 patients awaiting admission.
The Korean Medical Association urged the government to set up treatment facilities and allow antibody treatment for high-risk patients before severe symptoms develop.
Officials will secure at least an additional 1,300 hospital beds by mid-December, Interior and Security Minister Jeon Hee-cheol told a COVID-19 response meeting.
Of the critically ill patients, more than 84 percent were 60 years of age and older. Experts had pointed to vaccines lowering antibody levels and urged the elderly to take boosters.
Tuesday’s new cases bring South Korea’s total to 452,350, with 3,658 deaths. The KDCA data shows that despite the increasing rate of hospitalization, the mortality rate remains relatively low, at 0.81%.
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