SEOUL - South Korea reported a new daily record of 4,116 new coronavirus cases for Tuesday, as the country battles to contain a spike in serious cases requiring hospitalization, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Wednesday.
South Korea this month switched to a "living with COVID-19" plan aimed at lifting rigid distancing rules and ultimately reopening after reaching vaccination goals last month.
Looking at the metropolitan Seoul area alone, the situation is critical enough to impose an emergency plan at any time, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting.
He called on health authorities to classify the patients accordingly based on the severity of the symptoms and make use of self-treatment options for mild or asymptomatic cases.
Less than 20% were treating themselves at home last week, Kim said.
KDCA had said the emergency plan may be imposed if and when the nationwide ICU bed capacity surpasses 75% or depending on the risk assessment that reviews medical response shortfalls, surge in number of elderly patients and uptake in booster shots.
Hospitals were treating 586 severe COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday midnight, rapidly filling up limited hospital beds for serious and critical cases. More than 85% of them were aged 60 or above, KDCA data showed.
At least 69% of the ICU beds were filled up nationwide and 83% in capital Seoul and neighboring areas alone, as the health authorities have been rushing to secure more beds issuing administrative order.
Despite the increase in hospitalization rate, the country's mortality rate remains relatively low at 0.79%.
South Korea was one of the first countries to record novel coronavirus cases after it emerged in China in late 2019. It has since had 425,065 infections, with 3,363 deaths.
The country has fully vaccinated 79.1% of its 52 million people, while just 4.1% have been given a booster dose.