South Korea reported another record for daily new coronavirus cases over the weekend, reaching 383,665 known cases on Saturday, according to the government — a fresh reminder that cases have yet to peak during the current surge that is being fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. Public health experts had projected at the end of February that new cases would reach 350,000 a day by the end of March, and it was unclear whether predictions for a peak had been reset.
According to Our World in Data, the number of cases in the country has increased 104 percent over the past two weeks, logging an average of more than 300,000 new cases a day as well as about 200 new deaths daily over the past week. With the United States averaging roughly 34,000 new known cases a day as of Saturday, according to a New York Times database, South Korea is now reporting 10 times as many cases a day, although new U.S. deaths remain much higher, at about 1,300 daily. About 86 percent of South Korea’s population is fully vaccinated.
On Wednesday, South Korea held its extremely close presidential election. Leading up to Election Day, tens of thousands of citizens gathered at rallies around the country in shows of support for their favorite candidates, and over 34 million people went to the polls and stood in lines to cast votes, according to the National Election Commission. Yoon Suk-yeol, of the conservative People Power Party, was declared the winner by less than one percentage point.
Even as daily case numbers have been rapidly rising, the nation has been slowly dialing back some pandemic restrictions. Operating hours for stores and restaurants were recently extended from 10 to 11 p.m., and starting on Monday, inbound travelers who have been fully vaccinated locally or have registered their vaccination status with South Korea will be exempt from a mandatory seven-day quarantine.
And in another example of trying to live with the virus, the K-pop group BTS also held its first in-person concert in Seoul since October 2019. The group had been expected to draw as many as 15,000 fans at the concert, the largest approved by the South Korean government since the pandemic began.
The Omicron surge is also straining the nation’s supply of polymerase chain reaction tests, which have long been considered the gold standard for detecting the coronavirus. According to Lee Ki-il, a senior health official who spoke at a live briefing on Friday, South Korea will now consider a positive test result from a rapid antigen test sufficient to be counted in the government’s official data, eliminating the need for a follow-up P.C.R. test for confirmation.
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