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(4th LD) New infections fall below 140,000, but deaths hit all-time high

All News 21:49 February 28, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figures in paras 9-10; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases fell below 140,000 on Monday, but virus-related deaths soared to a record high, as the government suspended the enforcement of the vaccine pass system as part of efforts to free up resources and focus more on treating seriously ill patients.

The country reported 139,626 new coronavirus infections, including 139,466 local cases, raising the total caseload to 3,134,456, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Monday's daily caseload marked a drop from the previous day's 163,565. The tally surpassed the 100,000 mark for the first time in mid-February and soared to an all-time high of 171,442 on Wednesday before staying around the 160,000 level for the following days.

The total COVID-19 caseload surpassed 3 million on Monday, just about a week after reaching the 2 million mark. The figure surpassed the 1 million mark earlier this month.

The country reported 114 more COVID-19 deaths, up sharply from the previous day's 49. It is the highest figure since the country reported its first COVID-19 death in February 2020.

The accumulated death toll came to 8,058, and the fatality rate was 0.26 percent, according to the KDCA.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients also rose further to 715 Monday from the previous day's 663. Compared with a week earlier, the figure grew nearly 50 percent.

The bed occupancy rate in hospitals' intensive care units for COVID-19 patients has also been on the rise, standing at 48.2 percent as of 5 p.m. Sunday, up 3.3 percentage points from the same time a day earlier.

Researchers demonstrate how to use a mobile COVID-19 testing laboratory at Seoul Clinical Laboratories in Yongin, 49 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 25, 2022. The education ministry plans to conduct coronavirus tests with mobile COVID-19 testing laboratories when coronavirus infections occur at schools. (Yonhap)

Researchers demonstrate how to use a mobile COVID-19 testing laboratory at Seoul Clinical Laboratories in Yongin, 49 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 25, 2022. The education ministry plans to conduct coronavirus tests with mobile COVID-19 testing laboratories when coronavirus infections occur at schools. (Yonhap)

As of 9 p.m. Monday, the country had reported 133,917 new cases nationwide, up 1,444 from the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and local governments.

Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

The authorities have said that the current wave is forecast to peak at some 250,000 daily cases by mid-March and they will focus on dealing with serious cases and preventing deaths while ditching a rigorous contact tracing scheme.

Amid a continued shortage of manpower handling the pandemic, the government announced a decision on Monday to temporarily suspend the enforcement of the vaccine pass system starting Tuesday for use of 11 kinds of public facilities, such as restaurants and cafes.

Currently, proof of vaccination or a negative test result is a must to enter those multiuse facilities, which has added to the burden of health workers to issue negative test certificates.

"The vaccine pass system was in place to support people's return to normalcy and to protect unvaccinated people when the delta variant with a higher fatality rate had spread," Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said.

"The new measure is, under the omicron-led changing circumstances, expected to help the authorities better mobilize resources in handling high-risk groups," he added.

The government also decided not to introduce the vaccine pass system for young citizens, reversing its earlier expansion plan to include 12- to 18-year-old citizens starting in April.

The authorities have been pushing to enforce the measure, citing a high percentage of teenagers infected with the virus in recent months.

But the plan has drawn public complaints, and Seoul and several other local courts have ruled against it, as teenagers of this age group have a low rate of COVID-19 case severity and mortality.

"As the vaccination rate has risen, controversy and conflicts have grown surrounding the necessity of the system. Court rulings have also caused confusion among people in different regions," health ministry official Park Hyang told a regular briefing.

"We can resume or adjust the implementation in accordance with the possible emergence of a new variant and the vaccination trend," she added.

The government also began dispatching officials of central government agencies to public health care centers from Monday under the plan to send a total of 3,000 officials for COVID-19 support work.

Around 1,000 military members will also be mobilized this week to support at-home treatment patients and other administrative roles, according to the minister.

The number of patients receiving at-home treatment hit another high of 797,354, up 28,581 from the previous day.

Of them, some 120,000 are classified as high-risk patients and are under the government's special monitoring, the KDCA said.

Other self-treatment patients can reach hospitals and local medical clinics when their conditions worsen, with a total of 7,420 clinics available for them across the country, it added.

As of Monday, 31.36 million people, or 61.1 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.36 million, accounting for 86.4 percent, according to the KDCA.

People enter a shopping mall in Seoul without mandatory registration on Feb. 20, 2022. (Yonhap)

People enter a shopping mall in Seoul without mandatory registration on Feb. 20, 2022. (Yonhap)

People line up to receive COVID-19 tests in front of a makeshift testing station on Feb. 27, 2022. (Yonhap)

People line up to receive COVID-19 tests in front of a makeshift testing station on Feb. 27, 2022. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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