(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figures in 8th para; CHANGES headline and lead)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, Feb. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases hit a fresh record of 56,431 on Sunday, as the highly transmissible omicron variant continued to spread quickly across the nation.
The fresh cases, including 56,297 local infections, raised the country's total caseload to 1,350,630, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The latest figure marks the fourth day in a row with daily infections above the 50,000 level. A total of 54,941 cases were reported Saturday.
New daily infections have surged sharply recently in the country due to the omicron variant, reaching over 40,000 for the first time Wednesday, just four days after breaking the 30,000 mark on Feb. 5.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 7,081, up 36 from Saturday. The fatality rate was 0.52 percent, the KDCA said.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was 288, up 13 from a day earlier, the KDCA said. The daily tally has stayed in the 200s for 16 days in a row.
The number of patients receiving at-home treatment also rose to an all-time high of 214,869.
As of 9 p.m., the country had added 53,390 new COVID-19 cases, up 433 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.
Health authorities have warned that the daily new cases could hit 170,000 by around the end of this month. The National Institute of Mathematical Sciences, South Korea's state-run think tank, estimated the figure could even soar as high as 360,000 by early next month.
Since Thursday, health authorities have been making daily checkup calls only to high-risk patients in a move to alleviate the workload of health workers and government officials and to better deal with the current pandemic trends.
Low-risk COVID-19 patients are left to self-monitor their conditions and contact local hospitals if symptoms worsen.
In light of the surge in at-home treatment patients, the government earlier announced it will temporarily restrict the purchase of COVID-19 self-test kits to five units for three weeks in order to stabilize the supply of the kits.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said self-test kits for 30 million people will be available at local pharmacies and convenience stores for two weeks starting Monday.
Customers will be allowed to purchase additional kits at different stores if needed, it said.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 17,065, followed by Seoul with 11,777 and the western port city of Incheon with 4,469, the KDCA said. Cases from overseas went up 134 to 27,224.
As of Sunday, 29.42 million people, or 57.3 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.22 million people, accounting for 86.2 percent.
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