(LEAD) S. Korea's new COVID-19 cases tick up amid eased curbs
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SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new COVID-19 cases rose to over 13,000 Wednesday, two days after the country lifted its mask mandate on public transportation.
The country reported 13,081 new COVID-19 infections, including 23 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 30,728,057, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The Wednesday figure is slightly up from Tuesday's 12,016. The daily coronavirus caseload tends to peak at mid-week before falling again toward the weekend.
The KDCA reported nine COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 34,187. The number of critically ill patients stood at 131, up from 128 the previous day.
Health authorities are closely monitoring the country's COVID-19 trend after it scrapped the mask-wearing mandate on public transportation early this week.
People should still wear face masks in infection-prone places, like hospitals.
On Wednesday, the government said it planned to administer free coronavirus vaccines for the entire population once a year, in a long-term medical scheme to reduce COVID-19 related deaths and hospitalizations.
For those with a compromised immune system, there will be two inoculations -- in the second and fourth quarters.
"In order to keep a stable COVID-19 situation and return to pre-pandemic normalcy faster, protecting high-risk groups is very crucial," Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said during a briefing, adding, "We plan to offer free vaccines once in the fourth quarter."
The government left open an option to change the plan in case of emergencies like the emergence of new variations and a sudden spike in infections.
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