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(3rd LD) S. Korea's new cases at 10-week low; most virus restrictions lifted

National 18:50 April 18, 2022

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6-7)

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.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, the country had reported 97,609 new cases, up 57,651 from the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and local governments.

The figure apparently soared due to increased virus tests but was still lower than the 159,859 cases tallied the same time a week ago. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

"Goodbye coronavirus!" is written on a field in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, on April 17, 2022, to mark the lifting of pandemic restrictions. (Yonhap)

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.

A coronavirus testing center in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, looks empty on April 18, 2022. (Yonhap)

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.

"Please remember that lifting social distancing rules does not mean the risk associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is gone or the pandemic itself is finished," Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said at a daily coronavirus briefing Monday.

He emphasized maintaining good personal hygiene and asked the elderly to take extra care of their health.

Of the locally transmitted infections, Seoul reported 7,345 cases and its surrounding Gyeonggi Province added 13,926 cases. Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, identified 2,487 cases.

Streets bustle with people in the popular nightlife district of Hongdae, western Seoul, on April 17, 2022. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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