(LEAD) S. Korea's new cases at 10-week low; most virus restrictions lifted
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SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases dipped to a 10-week low Monday as omicron began to recede and the country lifted most restrictions to move on from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The country added 47,743 new COVID-19 infections, including 14 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 16,353,495, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The new tally is slightly fewer than the 49,546 reported Feb. 9 when the omicron variant started to rapidly spread across the country.
The virus peaked at 621,178 cases on March 17, and it has since been retreating. The country reported 107,916 new cases Saturday and 93,001 on Sunday. Last Monday's tally was 90,917.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 21,224, up 132 from the previous day. The fatality rate was 0.13 percent. The number of critically ill patients came to 850, down 43 from a day ago.
South Korea lifted most coronavirus restrictions Monday, except the mask mandate, in a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life.
Small businesses are now allowed to operate without constraints on hours and capacity. The 10-person cap on private gatherings was also removed.
The government said it will decide whether to lift the outdoor mask mandate after closely monitoring COVID-19 trends across the country in the coming two weeks.
As of midnight Sunday, 44.53 million, or 86.8 percent of the 52 million population, had fully been vaccinated, and 33 million, or 64.3 percent, had received booster shots, the KDCA said.
On Monday, reservations opened for a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for people over 60 ,four months after their first booster dose.
The government is also set to downgrade COVID-19 to the second-highest level of its four-tier infectious disease control system on April 25, allowing coronavirus patients to be free of mandatory self-quarantine and to receive treatments at local clinics as early as late May.
Health officials have warned, however, that a considerable number of cases are expected to continue for quite some time, although overall risks posed by the pandemic have fallen.
Of the locally transmitted infections, Seoul reported 7,345 cases and its surrounding Gyeonggi Province added 13,926 cases. Incheon, west of Seoul, identified 2,487 cases.
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