(3rd LD) S. Korea's daily COVID-19 cases hit grim milestone of 90,000 amid omicron woes
(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figures in 8th para)
SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases spiked to an all-time high Wednesday amid worries that the number could further increase as the government might ease current tough social distancing curbs later this week.
The country reported 90,443 new COVID-19 infections, including 90,281 local cases, raising the total caseload to 1,552,851, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The latest figure is sharply up from the previous day when new daily cases hit a record high of 57,164.
Health officials attributed the sudden spike in new infections partly to increased testing after the weekend. Daily infection tallies usually shrink at the start of the week due to less testing on the weekend.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 7,202, up 39 from Tuesday. The fatality rate was 0.46 percent, the KDCA said.
The KDCA said the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was 313, down one from a day earlier. The daily tally stayed above 300 for the third straight day.
South Korea's critically ill patients currently stand at around six per million people, compared with 46 per million in the United States and 49 per million in France, according to health authorities.
As of 6 p.m., the country had added 77,249 new COVID-19 cases, up 5,334 from the 71,915 cases posted the same time the previous day, which was the largest-ever number for that time, according to health authorities and city governments. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the number of infections has not reached a peak yet and the government will come up with measures in consideration of both pandemic-hit small businesses and the spread of the virus when it decides Friday whether to adjust current social distancing rules.
Currently, the cap on private gatherings is six people, and a 9 p.m. curfew is imposed on restaurants and cafes nationwide. The prime minister earlier hinted at easing distancing curbs in a way that can help pandemic-hit small businesses but not cause further spread of the virus.
The number of infections has spiked in recent weeks due to the fast spread of the more transmissible omicron variant. The number topped 40,000 for the first time on Feb. 9, and only a day later, it exceeded the 50,000 level and has stayed over the mark until Tuesday.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 27,954, followed by Seoul with 18,834 and the southeastern port city of Busan with 6,483, the KDCA said. Cases from overseas went up 162 to 27,659.
As of Wednesday, 29.77 million people, or 58 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.25 million, accounting for 86.2 percent.
Health authorities have warned that daily new cases could hit 170,000 by around the end of this month. The National Institute of Mathematical Sciences, a state-run think tank, estimated the figure could even soar as high as 360,000 by early next month.
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