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(2nd LD) Daily COVID-19 cases top 13,000: PM

All News 10:04 January 26, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with exact case count in 2nd para, more remarks by Kim in last 4 paras; ADDS photo)
By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily coronavirus cases have shot up to over 13,000 as the omicron variant has driven a surge in infections, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Wednesday.

Kim made the remark at a COVID-19 response meeting, saying the spread of the highly contagious omicron has begun in full force. Health authorities later put the exact number at 13,012.

Wednesday's tally, which counts the number of infections reported over a 24-hour period ending Tuesday midnight, is the highest since the country detected its first case of COVID-19 two years ago and breaks the previous day's record of 8,571.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum presides over a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters at the government complex in Seoul on Jan. 26, 2022. (Yonhap)

On Monday, the government confirmed omicron has become the dominant strain in the country after its detection rate surpassed 50 percent last week.

"From now on, the main goal of our antivirus response will be to reduce critical cases and deaths," Kim said at the meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.

Kim noted Wednesday marks the start of a new testing and treatment regime designed to minimize disruptions amid the fast spread of omicron.

Under the regime, local hospitals and clinics will administer tests and treat patients, and rapid antigen tests will replace polymerase chain reaction tests at testing sites, except for high-risk groups, including those aged over 60.

The system will initially apply in four areas seeing a surge in omicron cases -- the southwestern city of Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, and the cities of Pyeongtaek and Anseong in Gyeonggi Province.

Starting Saturday, the system will expand nationwide, with the introduction of rapid antigen tests at 256 testing sites across the country, Kim said.

Starting Feb. 3, he said it will be implemented in 431 clinics nationwide specializing in respiratory illnesses, as well as in designated local hospitals and clinics.

"If the examination, testing and treatment of COVID-19 are done together in nearby hospitals and clinics, we will be able to respond more quickly and efficiently to omicron," Kim said, adding the system is expected to ease the workload of public health centers, which have largely handled the testing and management of patients until now.

The prime minister repeated his call on people to refrain from traveling to their hometowns over the Lunar New Year holiday between this weekend and next Wednesday.

"Especially if you or your parents have not received their third vaccine shots, I plead with you to postpone your gathering," he said.

Medical workers check COVID-19 self-test kits at a public health center in Anseong, 77 kilometers south of Seoul, on Jan. 25, 2022, one day ahead of the introduction of new quarantine rules, under which polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be available only to high-risk groups, including people aged over 60, residing in four omicron variant-dominated areas -- Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, Pyeongtaek and Anseong. Others in the regions can take PCR tests only after they are confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus via self-tests. (Yonhap)

hague@yna.co.kr
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