(ATTN: UPDATES with omicron cases and possible shortage of hospital beds in paras 8, 12, 20-21; REWRITES first four paras)
SEOUL, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily numbers of coronavirus cases, critically ill patients and deaths hit record highs again Saturday as officials work to strenghten social distancing in order to control the spread of the omicron variant.
The country also added three confirmed cases of the variant, increasing the total to nine.
There were 5,352 new COVID-19 infections, including 5,327 local infections, raising the total caseload to 467,907, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Saturday's tally marks the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since the country reported its first one in January 2020 and exceeds the previous record of 5,226 reported Thursday.
The number of critically ill patients was 752, up 16 from Friday, and the death toll came to 3,809, up 70 from a day earlier. The fatality rate stood at 0.81 percent.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 2,268 new cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province posted 1,671.
The number of cases from overseas came to 25, raising the total to 15,842.
As of Saturday, health authorities have confirmed nine omicron variant cases and 13 suspected ones, with the results from tests yet to be released.
Of the nine confirmed cases, four came from overseas and five were local infections.
The country's first confirmed cases of the variant were discovered in a fully vaccinated couple who returned home from Nigeria last week.
Health authorities are worried about a possible community infection involving the variant, with tests currently under way on over 400 people who attended the same church service in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, as family members of one of the nine infected.
There are currently 719 people who have come in contact with those infected or suspected to have been infected with the omicron variant, the authorities said.
The confirmed cases of the omicron variant pushed the government to tighten its eased rules that began last month under the "living with COVID-19" scheme.
Starting Monday till Jan. 2, the maximum number of people at private gatherings will be cut to six in the greater Seoul area and eight in other areas, from the current 10 and 12.
Visitors to high-risk businesses, including saunas, pubs and gyms, have to show vaccine passes or a negative test result.
Restaurants, cafes, cram schools, movie theaters, public study rooms, libraries and museums are among the newly included places.
Those aged between 12 and 18 also will be required to meet the vaccine pass measures starting Feb. 1.
A one-week grace period for the vaccine pass system will be allowed before the rules are enforced.
Inbound travelers have to be put under a 10-day mandatory quarantine regardless of their vaccination status till Dec. 16.
About 80 percent of the hospital beds for critically ill patients are currently occupied across the country, with the bed occupancy rate reaching nearly 90 percent in the greater Seoul area. There are 894 patients waiting for beds in the capital area and 898 in other regions.
As of midnight Friday, 13,841 patients were being treated at home nationwide.
The KDCA said 42.62 million people, or 83.1 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 41.28 million people, or 80.4 percent, have been fully vaccinated.
About 3.85 million people, or 7.5 percent of the population, have received a booster shot.
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