SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new COVID-19 cases hit yet another somber milestone of more than 400,000 on Wednesday, driven by the dominant omicron variant spreading at an overwhelming speed.
The country added 400,741 new daily COVID-19 infections, mostly locally transmitted, raising the total caseload to 7,629,275, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
It's an all-time high since South Korea reported the first COVID-19 case on Jan. 20, 2020, and a big jump from Tuesday's 362,338. The previous record high was 383,659 reported last Saturday.
The death toll from COVID-19 rose 164 to 11,052, with the fatality rate standing at 0.14 percent.
The number of critically ill patients, seen as a key indicator in the pandemic response, reached another record high of 1,244, up 48 from the previous day.
South Korea has seen its COVID-19 caseload spike since early this year, with the daily tallies surging from four digits to six digits in about three weeks last month.
Despite the fast spread of the omicron, the government has been trying to take steps to regain normalcy to the most possible extent while keeping up the fight against the virus.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum called for health authorities Wednesday to start discussing with the medical community about lowering the grade for COVID-19 to reflect the "changes" in the current pandemic environment, apparently meaning the disease has become prevalent, and the detection and treatment process is being handled at the local clinic level.
COVID-19 is classified as a first-grade infectious disease in South Korea, which calls for high-level responses on patients, such as negative pressure isolation.
The government plans to start discussions with experts this week on readjusting social distancing rules. The current 11 p.m. business curfew and six-person cap on private gatherings are due to end this Sunday.
Starting this week, uninfected students and school staff members are allowed to attend school in person, even if family members who live with them are virus positive. The vaccination program for children aged between 5 and 11 will start March 31.
Of the locally transmitted cases reported Wednesday, 81,395 cases came from Seoul and 94,806 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. The western port city of Incheon reported 28,453 cases. New cases from overseas came to 117, putting the total at 30,475.
As of Wednesday, 32.18 million people out of the 52 million population, or 62.7 percent, had received booster shots. Fully vaccinated people came to 44.44 million, representing 86.6 percent, the KDCA said.
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