New COVID-19 cases below 5,000 for 1st time in 20 days; critical cases remain high

December 27, 2021

South Korea’s new coronavirus cases fell below 5,000 for the first time in 20 days Monday due partly to antivirus restrictions and fewer tests over the weekend, but the number of critical cases remained high.

The country added 4,207 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total caseload to 611,670, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The figure marked the first time daily cases fell below 5,000 since Dec. 7, and represented a sharp decline from a daily record high of 7,849 on Dec. 15.

The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients slightly fell to 1,078 after reaching an all-time high of 1,105 on Saturday, the KDCA said.

As of 9 p.m. Monday, 3,539 fresh COVID-19 cases had been reported nationwide, down 235 from the same time Sunday, according to health authorities and city governments.

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

People wait in line to get COVID-19 tests at a makeshift virus testing clinic in Seoul on Dec. 26, 2021. (Yonhap)
People stand in line to take coronavirus tests at a screening clinic in front of Seoul Station on Dec. 24, 2021. South Korea's new coronavirus cases fell below 7,000 for the second day in a row on the back of antivirus restrictions, but critical cases surged to a record high of 1,084. (Yonhap)

People wait in line to get COVID-19 tests at a makeshift virus testing clinic in Seoul on Dec. 26, 2021. (Yonhap)

The country added 55 more deaths from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 5,300. The fatality rate stood at 0.87 percent.

The country also reported 69 new omicron variant cases, bringing the total to 445. Among them, 181 omicron variant cases are imported and 264 locally transmitted, the KDCA said.

The bed occupancy rate in intensive care units for COVID-19 patients in the greater Seoul area stood at 78.9 percent as of 5 p.m. on Sunday, slightly up from 77.7 percent from the same time a day earlier.

A figure higher than 75 percent is considered to have surpassed the saturation point. As of midnight, 149 COVID-19 patients in the greater Seoul area were waiting to be admitted to hospitals while undergoing at-home treatment.

On Dec. 18, the government reimposed a set of revised virus restrictions across the country, which will remain in effect until Jan. 2 to stem the spread of the virus.

It marks a reversal of the government’s “living with COVID-19″ scheme that began early last month, with an aim to return to normalcy by relaxing virus restrictions in phased steps.

Under the new measures, the maximum size of private gatherings is limited to four people nationwide, from the previous limit of six in the capital area and eight elsewhere.

A 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. curfew is applied to businesses as well, depending on their type of service.

Health authorities put the risk level of the pandemic over the past week at “very high” in South Korea’s capital area and for the nation as a whole. The authorities will decide Friday whether to extend the current distancing guidelines.

Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 1,466, while 1,160 came from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 227 from Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul.

The KDCA said 82 cases came from overseas, raising the caseload to 16,907.

As of Monday, 85.7 percent of the country’s 52 million people had received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 82.4 percent had been fully vaccinated, while 29.6 percent had gotten booster shots, the health agency said.

South Korea has signed pre-purchase contracts with U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc. and MSD, a subsidiary of U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co., each for their oral COVID-19 pills for 362,000 patients and 242,000 patients, respectively, health officials said.

South Korea is pushing ahead to sign additional deals to secure oral medication for 400,000 people, they added.

On Monday, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety also approved emergency authorization of Pfizer’s oral COVID-19 pill, making it the first such pill to be used in the country as early as mid-January.