(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 3-4, 6, 12; RESTRUCTURES; TRIMS)
SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily coronavirus cases stayed above 7,000 for the third straight day Monday amid deepening concerns over the fast spreading omicron variant that has become the dominant strain in the country.
The country added 7,513 new COVID-19 infections, including 7,159 local infections, raising the total caseload to 741,413, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The latest tally almost doubled from last Monday's 3,857. It marks the fourth-largest daily figure since the pandemic began two years ago and the biggest recorded for a Monday. The record high to date was 7,848 on Dec. 15.
Daily infection tallies tend to slow on Mondays due to fewer tests on the weekend, but the fast spread of omicron appears to be breaking the trend.
The government said the omicron variant is now the dominant COVID-19 virus strain in South Korea, citing its detection rate that reached 50.3 percent last week. The country added 4,830 more omicron cases over the past week, putting the total at 9,860, the KCDA said.
"The daily average of confirmed patients hit 5,962 last week, a 50 percent increase from the previous week, due to the highly transmissible omicron," Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said at a government response meeting.
"We will work hard to respond effectively to omicron-prevailing areas, while rapidly implementing the medical system centered on general medical institutions," Jeon said.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 6,565 on Monday, up 25 from Sunday. The fatality rate stood at 0.89 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 418, down 13 from Sunday.
The new medical response system is expected to focus on early virus detection and treatment for high-risk groups, such as elderly people and those with underlying diseases.
People in low-risk groups will take rapid antigen tests at testing stations. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be carried out on high-risk groups.
The self-quarantine period for patients will be shortened to seven days from the current 10.
The government will first adopt the new medical response system Wednesday in parts of the country's southwest and Gyeonggi Province near Seoul, where the omicron variant is spreading fast, before deciding when to implement the new omicron response system nationwide.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 1,626 new COVID-19 cases, the surrounding Gyeonggi Province added 2,391, and the western port city of Incheon reported 552.
The number of imported cases was tallied at 354, bringing the total to 23,753.
As of Monday, 43.8 million people, or 85.4 percent of the country's 52 million population, had been fully vaccinated, and 25.24 million, or 49.2 percent, had received booster shots, the health authorities said.
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