South Korea faced its deadliest day yet of the pandemic on Saturday, reporting 112 deaths in a 24-hour period, as the nation battles a coronavirus surge fueled by the Omicron variant. Health authorities reported that there were 643 patients hospitalized in severe or critical condition on Saturday, up from 408 patients a week earlier.
The surge in South Korea, currently one of the worst in the world, intensified over the last week, reaching a record of 171,452 cases in a single day on Wednesday. Since then, case numbers have remained at a high level, with the government reporting 166,207 cases on Saturday. South Korea, a nation of about 50 million people, is now reporting more cases each day than the United States, a once unimaginable development.
Despite having 86 percent of its people fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, South Korea has recorded a 201 percent increase in the average of daily cases over the past two weeks.
According to a senior health official, Lee Ki-il, who spoke at a briefing on Friday, the government has plans to secure additional hospital beds in March. He added that the government and the medical community were doing their best to “provide no inconveniences to the public.” Mr. Lee said that the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency was prepared to take in and treat up to 2,000 patients with severe cases of Covid-19.
The government has responded to the surge by focusing on the detection of the virus in high-risk groups — those in their 60s and older, as well as people with pre-existing medical conditions — and treating only the most critical cases. The majority of people who test positive are being asked to simply look after themselves at home.
That is part of the government’s new approach of learning to live with the virus. Starting in March, those who live with people who have tested positive will no longer be required to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status. Previously, unvaccinated people were required to quarantine for seven days if someone in their household tested positive.