(ATTN: ADDS more details from gov't briefing in paras 10-13, photo; TRIMS)
SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases reached yet another record high Friday, as the country grapples with the rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant with a new nationwide virus response system set to come into force.
The country reported 16,096 new COVID-19 infections, including 15,894 local cases, raising the total to 793,582, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The daily count broke the record for the fourth consecutive day, spiking from 8,570 on Tuesday. The per day figures have more than quadrupled since Jan. 17, when the tally hovered around 3,800.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 6,678, up 24 from Thursday. The fatality rate stood at 0.84 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was 316, down 34 from the previous day.
The public health agency said the infection tally could surge to as many as 100,000 a day in the next several weeks.
South Korea is set to introduce a revised virus response system Saturday to tackle the omicron wave.
Testing stations set up at public health centers and large hospitals will adopt both rapid antigen self-tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. People can choose which one they want to take.
People aged over 60 or in high-risk groups, such as those with underlying illnesses, will be prioritized for PCR tests.
Beginning Thursday next week, local hospitals and clinics will also administer self-test kits, prescribe medication, such as Paxlovid pills, and manage patients undergoing at-home treatment.
"We'll ultimately change the medical system to respond to COVID-19 within the everyday medical system rather than a separate, specialized medical system," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said in a regular briefing on virus response.
"This is an inevitable transition to reduce severe cases and deaths by focusing on the swift diagnosis and treatment of high-risk groups with the limited resources available," Kwon said.
The government is in talks with the medical community to encourage as many as 1,000 local clinics to participate in the testing and treatment.
The system will expand nationwide after the three-day Lunar New Year holiday running till Wednesday.
Of the locally transmitted cases Friday, Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 5,143 new COVID-19 cases, followed by Seoul with 3,946 and the western port city of Incheon at 1,228.
The number of imported cases was tallied at 202, bringing the total to 24,649.
As of Friday, 26.35 million people, or 51.4 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots, the KDCA said. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 43.93 million people, accounting for 85.6 percent.
New Defense Minister Lee takes office, warns of 'stern' response to possible N.K. provocations
(LEAD) Yoon taps ex-deputy NSA for spy chief
Gov't to significantly increase international flights to meet travel demand
Psy returns to Billboard Hot 100 after 7 years with 'That That'
(URGENT) Yoon takes oath of office
Full text of President Yoon's inaugural address
(2nd LD) Yoon offers to revive N.K. economy with 'audacious plan'
S. Korea to send condolence delegation to UAE over death of president
(3rd LD) Moon appeals for resumption of inter-Korean dialogue in farewell speech
(News Focus) With Yoon, S. Korea, U.S. to strengthen alliance, deterrence against N. Korea: experts
S. Korean Navy SEAL-turned-YouTuber in Ukraine claims to be injured
N. Korea asks China for help in fight against COVID-19: source
(LEAD) N. K. leader issues special order on medicine supply against epidemic: state media
Yoon offers unsparing COVID-19 aid to N. Korea
(4th LD) N. Korea reports 15 new deaths amid COVID-19 outbreak