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(5th LD) S. Korea's daily COVID-19 cases surpass 100,000; concerns rise over further uptick

All News 21:19 February 18, 2022

(ATTN: ADDS latest figure in para 6)

SEOUL, Feb. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases exceeded 100,000 on Friday for the first time since the pandemic began about two years ago as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads rapidly.

The cases could continue to rise going forward as the government is set to partially relax social distancing rules this weekend, apparently to help small merchants taking the brunt of the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country reported 109,831 new COVID-19 infections, including 109,715 local cases, raising the total caseload to 1,755,806, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The death toll from COVID-19 came to 7,283, up 45 from Thursday. The fatality rate was 0.41 percent, the KDCA said.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 385, down four from a day earlier, marking the fifth straight day that the tally stayed above 300.

As of 9 p.m. Friday, the country had added 96,851 new COVID-19 cases, down 4,019 from the 92,832 cases posted the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and city governments. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

People wait in line to receive tests at a COVID-19 testing station in Seoul on Feb. 18, 2022, when the country reported 109,831 cases. It is the first time the number surpassed 100,000 in the country. (Yonhap)
People wait in line to receive tests at a COVID-19 testing station in Seoul on Feb. 18, 2022, when the country reported 109,831 cases. It is the first time the number surpassed 100,000 in the country. (Yonhap)

The number of daily infections has spiked in recent weeks due to the fast spread of the omicron variant. Daily infections have nearly doubled in just a week after surpassing 50,000 for the first time on Feb. 10.

Despite the spike in cases, the government decided earlier in the day to extend the operating hours of cafes and restaurants by one hour to 10 p.m. starting this weekend, raising concerns over a further surge in infections.

The move came amid a strong backlash from small merchants and self-employed people who have been complaining that tightened antivirus measures are dragging down sales.

The partially relaxed antivirus curbs will be in place from Saturday to March 13, with the cap on private gatherings remaining the same at six people.

The government may decide to tighten the social distancing scheme before March 13 if a pandemic "crisis" is expected, officials at the KDCA said during a press briefing.

Health authorities earlier warned that daily new cases could hit 170,000 by the end of this month. A state-run think tank also estimated that the current wave is expected to peak at around 270,000 in mid-March, some seven weeks after omicron became the dominant strain in South Korea.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the virus peak is expected to pass around end-February and mid-March, citing experts.

Starting Monday, the government will lower the age of eligibility for oral COVID-19 treatment pills to include those over the age of 40 with underlying medical conditions.

Until now, oral medication has been prescribed to COVID-19 patients in their 60s and older, or those in their 50s with underlying health issues and others with weak immune systems.

The KDCA said 8,905 patients have received prescriptions for the antiviral oral pills as of now.

An employee points to a screen showing the number of new COVID-19 infections nationwide at the office of Seoul's Songpa Ward on Feb. 18, 2022. South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases hit another high of 109,831, exceeding 100,000 for the first time since the pandemic began about two years ago as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads rapidly. (Yonhap)
A group of small merchants holds a rally in downtown Seoul on Jan. 7, 2022, calling for the government to make up for their losses incurred from business restrictions under tough social distancing rules amid the pandemic. (Yonhap)

Starting Saturday, the government will also temporarily suspend the mandatory entry log that requires people to provide their identification through QR codes, phone calls or handwritten lists when entering facilities.

The QR code service will be applied only to facilities that require the proof of vaccination.

The number of patients receiving at-home treatment also rose to a fresh high of 351,695 Friday, topping 300,000 for the second straight day.

Intensive care unit beds for critically ill patients remained at a stable level of 29.4 percent occupied nationwide but concerns over a possible shortage linger as total infections have grown at a fast pace.

As of Friday, 30.07 million people, or 58.6 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.27 million, accounting for 86.3 percent, the KDCA said.

Of the locally transmitted cases reported Friday, Seoul reported 25,626 new cases, surpassing the 20,000 mark for the first time.

The surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western city of Incheon added 36,507 and 7,342 new infections, respectively. Cases from overseas went up 116 to 27,864.

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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