Virus wave in South Korea tops 7,000 for third day in a row

SEOUL – New coronavirus infections in South Korea topped 7,000 for the third day in a row on Friday in a record wave that has crushed hospitals and threatens the country’s goals of weathering the pandemic without lockdown.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a meeting on the virus that the country may be forced to take “extraordinary” measures if the virus does not slow down soon. Authorities have issued administrative orders requiring hospitals across the country to designate 2,000 additional combined beds for COVID-19 treatment.

Kim said the government will also speed up the administration of the booster shots by shortening the interval between the second and third vaccine injections from four or five months currently to three months starting next week.

About 41.5 million people, or 81% of the population over 51 million, have been fully immunized, but only 10% have received boosters.

The spread from the delta in recent weeks has been accompanied by an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, many among those in their 60s or older whose immunities waned after being vaccinated at the start of the vaccine rollout that began. in February.

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Authorities tightened restrictions from Monday, banning private social gatherings of seven or more people in the greater capital region and forcing adults to check their vaccination status at restaurants and other indoor venues. But Kim said such measures have yet to show an effect on slowing transmissions.

“If it becomes clear that we fail to reverse this crisis situation in the coming days, the government will have no choice but to employ extraordinary anti-virus measures, including strong social distancing,” said Kim, not from South Korea. 2 behind President Moon Jae-in.

Deputy Health Minister Lee Ki-il said authorities could further reduce the limit on social gatherings and reinstate the restrictions on opening hours at restaurants and bars that were lifted in November if the things continue to look bad next week.

“We will do our best to avoid a lockdown,” Lee said during a briefing.

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The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said about 5,300 of the 7,022 new cases reported on Friday were from the capital Seoul and the nearby metropolitan area, where the virus has hit the hardest. The death toll in the country is now 4,130 after 53 patients infected with the virus died in the past 24 hours, while 852 others were in serious or critical condition.

South Korea has also tightened its borders to push back the new variant of the omicron since its first cases were identified last week linked to arrivals from Nigeria. The KDCA said health workers confirmed three more omicron infections on Friday, bringing the number to 63.

Scientists say it’s not yet clear whether omicron is more contagious or dangerous than previous strains of the virus.

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