Thursday’s count of 621,328 cases is South Korea’s highest daily figure since the pandemic began.
But critical cases and deaths remain comparatively low in the country of around 52 million, where most adults are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot, official data shows.
“We have been bracing ourselves for an increase in the number of patients ever since Omicron became dominant,” Lee Sang-won, a senior official with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said on Thursday.
But even the government model didn’t anticipate that many, he said.
“The number is much higher than expected,” he said.
Health authorities believe South Korea is nearing the peak of an Omicron-driven wave, but Lee said they were recalculating “the scale of confirmed cases or how long the ‘peak period’ will last.”
Once that’s over, officials believe the country can begin to return to normal.
“I think this crisis will be the last big crisis in the overall response to Covid-19,” Sohn Young-rae, a senior Health Ministry official, said on Wednesday.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, 11,481 people have died from covid in South Korea, according to health authorities.
Its total death rate from Covid is 0.14 percent as of Thursday, compared to 0.05 to 0.1 percent for the seasonal flu, according to official statistics.
Omicron’s rise and its economic implications will pose an immediate challenge to South Korea’s newly elected president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who narrowly won last week.
Seoul abandoned its “trace, test and treat” approach last month as a dramatic rise in Omicron cases threatened to overwhelm its health system.
Instead of mass testing and aggressive contact tracing, patients with mild or moderate symptoms are now being asked to take care of themselves at home.
Authorities are also prioritizing PCR tests for people aged 60 and over.
The country has continued to relax its social distancing rules, under pressure from small business owners who say years of Covid restrictions have pushed them over the edge.
The government is expected to decide this Friday whether to maintain current distancing guidelines, such as an 11pm curfew for businesses.
At the end of this month, Seoul will also start vaccinating children between the ages of 5 and 11.
Source Credit: TheGuardian