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New COVID-19 cases surge to record high; gov't to restore tougher virus curbs

All News 10:06 December 15, 2021

SEOUL, Dec. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases and critically ill patients surged to fresh record highs Wednesday, with the government tipped to restore toughest virus curbs to contain the spread of infections.

The country added 7,850 new COVID-19 infections, including 7,828 local infections, raising the cumulative caseload to 536,495, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Wednesday's figure broke the previous record high of 7,174 cases last Wednesday. Daily virus cases have hovered in the range of 4,000-7,000 since early this month, weeks after the country began to ease the distancing rules from Nov. 1.

The number of critically ill patients hit an all-time high of 964, up from the previous record high of 906 on Tuesday.

Deaths from the virus rose by 70, bringing the total to 4,456. The record high death toll was 94 a day earlier. The fatality rate stood at 0.83 percent.

The country reported nine more cases of the omicron variant, putting the total at 128.

A COVID-19 patient is being transported on a stretcher from an ambulance at Seoul Medical Center in Seoul on Dec. 15, 2021. (Yonhap)

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the government is considering further reducing the maximum private gathering size and restoring business hour curfews to tackle the fast spread of the virus, in what would be a reversal of the phased program for a return to normal that began last month.

"The government considers the current virus situation to be very serious and plans to implement a much more powerful social distancing scheme," Kim said during a government meeting on virus response.

Details of the new measures are expected to be announced Friday and enforced for the next two weeks.

The escalating spread of the virus has pressed the authorities to toughen the distancing rules, as the gradual easing of the virus curbs, under the "living with COVID-19" scheme, proved premature.

On top of the spike in daily infections, deaths from virus infections since November accounted for 35.1 percent of the cumulative death toll counted so far since the pandemic began. Over 1,480 critically ill patients were waiting for an ICU bed as of Tuesday.

The "vaccine pass" system, a screening process newly adopted this week for people with vaccination or virus-negative status to use public or commercial premises, added to the growing public frustration after the system crashed multiple times.

Currently, private gatherings are limited to six people in the capital area and eight elsewhere, but the new measures are likely to lower that ceiling to four and restore a curfew on restaurant and cafe business hours to 10 p.m. or midnight.

Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 3,157 infections and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital logged 2,296 cases.

Twenty-two cases came from overseas, raising the caseload to 16,169, the KDCA said.

A total of 43.10 million people, or 83.9 percent of the country's 52 million population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 41.80 million people, or 81.4 percent, have been fully vaccinated, with 7.93 million people, or 15.5 percent, having gotten their booster shots, the KDCA said.

elly@yna.co.kr
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