New infections stay above 70,000 as subvariant spreads

July 20, 2022

South Korea’s new coronavirus cases stayed above 70,000 for the second straight day Wednesday as a highly contagious omicron subvariant is spreading fast amid eased virus curbs.

The country reported 76,402 new COVID-19 infections, including 429 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 18,937,971, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

On Tuesday, the daily caseload more than doubled to 73,582 from 26,299 a day earlier. Daily infections stood at 41,310 on Saturday and 40,342 on Sunday.

The omicron subvariant BA.5 has spread fast since end-June with the start of the summer holiday season. The daily count hit over 10,000 on June 29 for the first time in about three weeks before jumping to over 20,000 on July 9 and then above 40,000 on July 13.

The KDCA reported 12 deaths from the virus Wednesday, putting the death toll at 24,777. The fatality rate stood at 0.13 percent.

The number of critically ill patients was 96, up from the previous day’s 91.

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, the country had reported 68,721 additional cases, down 4,580 from the same time Tuesday and 1.8 times the number from a week ago. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

The BA.5 subvariant accounted for 52 percent of the country’s total COVID-19 cases, including cases from overseas, in the third week of July, up from the first week’s 24 percent, the KDCA said.

The health agency expected the BA.5 subvariant’s ratio to continue to rise and become the prevailing virus strain sooner or later due to an increasing number of inbound cases.

Health authorities said the country has entered a new virus wave, ending a downward trend from the peak of more than 620,000 in mid-March, and that the daily infections could surge to over 200,000 next month.

To keep the virus from spreading further, the government recommended fourth COVID-19 vaccine shots for people aged 50 and older as well as people aged 18 and older who have underlying health conditions, starting Monday.

Previously, people aged 60 and older and people who have an immune disorder were eligible for the fourth vaccine dose.

The move comes as the nation is facing another resurgence of the virus, driven by the omicron strain BA.5, which is known to be more contagious and better able to escape immunity compared with earlier versions.

By the end of July, the government plans to expand the number of “one-stop” COVID-19 treatment centers, where people can take virus tests, get in-person medical care services and receive antiviral drugs, to 10,000 from the current 6,338.