(4th LD) New COVID-19 cases below 6,000 for 1st time in 6 days, critical cases at just under 1,000
(ATTN: UPDATES with additional info in paras 5-6)
SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases fell below 6,000 for the first time in six days Monday due partly to less testing over the weekend, but the number of critically ill patients was at almost 1,000.
The country added 5,318 more COVID-19 cases, including 5,258 local infections, bringing the cumulative total to 570,414, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The number of critically ill patients came to 997, slightly down from an all-time high of 1,025 on Sunday and 1,016 on Saturday, the KDCA said.
The country added 54 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 4,776. The fatality rate stood at 0.84 percent.
Health authorities and local governments, meanwhile, had reported 4,239 new cases as of 9 p.m., down 657 from the same time the previous day.
The greater Seoul area accounted for 68.5 percent of new cases.
Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
The bed occupancy rate in intensive care units for COVID-19 patients stood at 80.9 percent as of 5 p.m. on Sunday. The comparative figure for the wider Seoul area came to 87.8 percent.
It is considered the saturation point when the figure exceeds 75 percent. As of midnight Monday, more than 32,000 COVID-19 patients were undergoing at-home treatment.
The country did not report a new omicron variant case Monday, with the total at 178, the authorities said.
One more person was found to have been infected with the omicron variant despite having received a booster shot, raising the total number of breakthrough cases from the variant to five, the KDCA said.
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said in a meeting on the virus response that the government will focus on administering boosters shots to people aged 60 and older as their fatality rate is higher.
The minister also said the authorities will come up with measures to make more hospital beds available, after securing 3,800 beds by Sunday.
The risk level of the pandemic in the country over the past week has been at the highest level for four weeks in a row, the KDCA said. The country introduced a new five-tier assessment system to evaluate the risk level of COVID-19 on a weekly basis.
On Saturday, the government reimposed a set of revised virus restrictions across the country, which will remain in effect until Jan. 2 to stem the spread of the virus.
It marks a reversal of the government's "living with COVID-19" scheme that began last month, with an aim to regain normalcy by relaxing virus restrictions in phased steps.
Under the new measures, the maximum size of private gatherings is limited to four people nationwide, from the previous limit of six in the capital area and eight elsewhere.
And a 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. curfew is applied to businesses, depending on their type of service.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 1,895 infections and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital logged 1,475 cases.
The KDCA said 60 cases came from overseas, raising the caseload to 16,388.
As of Monday, 84.7 percent of the country's 52 million people had received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 81.9 percent had been fully vaccinated, while 22.5 percent had gotten booster shots, the KDCA said.
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