(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figure, background info in paras 7-8)
SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily coronavirus cases jumped to over 6,000 for the first time in 27 days Thursday amid growing worries over the spread of the omicron virus variant ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
The country added 6,603 new COVID-19 infections, including 6,357 local infections, raising the total caseload to 712,503, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Health authorities are on high alert over a possible spike in infections as many people travel for family reunions during the Lunar New Year holiday that begins late this month.
The daily caseload has stayed below 6,000 since Dec. 24, when it stood at 6,233, through Wednesday. Thursday marks the second anniversary of the first case of coronavirus in South Korea.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients stood at 488 on Thursday. The country reported 28 COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 6,480. The fatality rate was 0.91 percent, the KDCA said.
The number of imported cases was tallied at 246, bringing the total imported cases to 22,551. it said.
As of 9 p.m., the country had added 5,980 new COVID-19 cases, up 731 from the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and city governments. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
The authorities have said that a new medical response system will take effect if the daily tally exceeds 7,000 in order to handle the pandemic in a flexible manner.
The hike in daily cases came as the KDCA on Tuesday lifted the vaccine pass program at several kinds of multiuse facilities, including department stores, large discount stores, cinemas and cram schools, across the country.
Still, the vaccine pass scheme remains in effect at such facilities as cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, indoor gyms, karaoke establishments, internet cafes and public bathhouses, the health agency said.
The program requires people to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results when entering multiuse facilities. It has been in effect since November when the number of daily infections soared to nearly 8,000.
On Monday, the government raised the limit on the size of private gatherings to six from the previous four. But it extended a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes, which has been in place since mid-December, for another three weeks until Feb. 6.
The move came amid deepening worries over a drastic upsurge in infections, as the highly transmissible omicron variant has spread at a fast pace and many people are expected to travel for family reunions during the Lunar New Year holiday that begins later this month.
As of Thursday, 43.67 million people, or 85.1 percent of the country's 52 million population, have been fully vaccinated, and 24.21 million, or 47.2 percent, have received booster shots, the KDCA said.
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