(ATTN: ADDS virus trend analysis in paras 10-13)
SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new COVID-19 cases fell to around 36,000 on Wednesday, hitting the lowest for a Wednesday count in 12 weeks, as the virus wave has been gradually slowing down.
The country reported 36,159 new COVID-19 infections, including 379 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 24,709,789, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
It marked a slight fall from the previous day's 39,425, and the lowest tally for any Wednesday since July 6 when the figure came to 19,352. A week earlier, the figure came to 41,269.
The virus wave, triggered by the spread of a highly contagious omicron variant, has been on a decline after a resurgence in July that later peaked above 180,000 cases in mid-August.
The country reported 46 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, raising the death toll to 28,318.
The number of critically ill patients came to 375, down by 26 from a day earlier, the KDCA said.
As the virus wave has subsided, the government on Wednesday decided to reduce the number of hospital beds reserved for COVID-19 patients in phases.
Currently, some 7,400 beds are set aside for COVID-19 patients, and some 20 percent of them are occupied. Of the total, 1,477 will be used for other general patients by Oct. 7, according to the KDCA.
"We've been able to manage the occupancy rate at around the 50 percent level even at the height of this virus wave in August. We now have greater capacity," Second Vice Health Minister Lee Ki-il said in a virus response meeting.
The KDCA also lowered the nationwide risk level of the virus to "low" from "moderate" for the first time in three months.
In the third week of September, daily infections fell 38.7 percent on-week to come to 33,538 cases per day on average, the KDCA said.
The reproduction rate, which represents new infections estimated to stem from a single case, came to 0.80 last week, staying below 1 for five consecutive weeks.
The virus wave has been on a gradual decrease for more than a month, and the trend is forecast to continue for the time being, it added.
On Monday, the government lifted all outdoor mask mandates in line with the waning virus trend, as it plans to further ease antivirus measures to better support people's everyday lives.
But the government will continue operating 10,000 one-stop COVID-19 treatment centers across the country at least until end-November, and extend supportive measures in terms of medical insurance to high-risk and other vulnerable groups, Lee said.
The country has been on alert as there have been concerns over a "twindemic" of COVID-19 and the seasonal influenza this fall and winter.
Earlier this month, the authorities issued an advisory over a possible seasonal influenza outbreak across the country, the first of its kind since 2019.
Rules for indoor mask wearing will also be in place for the time being on possible risks of seasonal influenza and other infectious diseases, according to officials.
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