New cases top 20,000 for 1st time amid raging omicron spread

February 2, 2022

South Korea’s daily virus cases on Wednesday exceeded 20,000 for the first time since the country reported its first virus case two years ago, due to the fast spread of the omicron variant.

The country reported 20,270 new COVID-19 infections, including 20,111 local cases, raising the total to 884,310, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The death toll from COVID-19 came to 6,787, up 15 from Tuesday. The fatality rate was 0.77 percent.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was 278, up six from a day earlier.

As of 9 p.m., the country had added 17,920 new COVID-19 cases, up 2,085 from the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and city governments. It marked the highest figure for the time period.

The greater Seoul area accounted for 57.7 percent.

Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

This photo taken on Feb. 2, 2022, shows people lining up to take coronavirus tests at a medical center in the southern port city of Busan amid the spread of the omicron virus variant. (Yonhap)
This photo taken on Jan. 31, 2022, and provided by Chilgok County shows people performing a formal Korean bow, called "sebae," to their mother at a nursing home in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province, with the glass door closed due to the spreading omicron variant. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo taken on Feb. 2, 2022, shows people lining up to take coronavirus tests at a medical center in the southern port city of Busan amid the spread of the omicron virus variant. (Yonhap)

A revised virus response system went into effect Saturday to tackle the wave of omicron, which has become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the country.

Eighty percent of the country’s confirmed cases during the last week were omicron. Health authorities have been on high alert over a sharp rise in cases due to increased gatherings of family members during the Lunar New Year holiday running till Wednesday.

Health authorities did not rule out the possibility of a bigger wave of the coronavirus at the end of this month, with daily cases reaching more than 100,000, due to the rapid spread of omicron.

The number of infected under treatment at their homes may rise to 100,000 from the current 83,000, the KDCA said.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Wednesday the omicron variant is spreading faster than expected, though critically ill cases and virus-related deaths are on the decline.

Starting Thursday, the country will adopt a new testing regime, in which only those who tested positive in rapid antigen tests will receive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in principle.

People aged over 60 or in high-risk groups, such as those with underlying illnesses, will be instead prioritized for PCR tests.

Amid the growing number of infections here, health authorities added they will mobilize 343 local clinics starting Thursday to carry out COVID-19 tests and treat patients. The number of such clinics will gradually rise to around 1,000.

Another batch of 391 clinics equipped with negative pressure facilities will also support testing and treatment of COVID-19 patients.

The revised regime is designed to minimize critical cases and deaths while preventing an overload and collapse of the medical system, the health agency said.

On Friday, the government also plans to announce new distancing rules that will take effect from Monday after holding a meeting of officials and experts.

Of the locally transmitted cases Wednesday, Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 6,018, followed by Seoul with 4,186 and the western port city of Incheon with 1,396. Cases from overseas rose 159 to 25,516.

As of Wednesday, 27.25 million people, or 53 percent of the country’s 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 43.99 million people, accounting for 86 percent.

For 2022, the government has secured 150 million doses of five kinds of COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen and Novavax — with 3.08 million doses due to be delivered from Jan. 1 to Feb. 3, the KDCA said.

On Thursday, 615,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are scheduled to arrive at Incheon International Airport, it said.