Seoul (South Korea), January 14: South Korea's daily coronavirus cases stayed above 4,000 for the third consecutive day and imported cases reached an all-time high Friday, prompting the government to extend part of toughened social distancing rules for three more weeks.
The country added 4,542 new COVID-19 infections, including 4,133 local infections, raising the total caseload to 683,566, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The number of imported cases hit a daily high of 409 on Friday amid the spread of the omicron variant across the globe, according to the KDCA.
The health authorities decided to ban all entrants' use of ordinary public transportation upon arrival and tighten rules on the proof of negative COVID-19 test results to stem the inflow of the virus. The measures will go into effect on Jan. 20.
The country reported 49 more COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 6,259, according to the health authorities. The fatality rate came to 0.92 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 659. It is the first time that the figure fell below 700 in more than a month, the KDCA said.
Also Friday, the government announced its decision to maintain a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes while raising the limit of private gathering size to six from the current four. The revised rules will be in place from Monday through Feb. 6.
The decision came as the number of daily infections has fallen to around the 4,000 level from as high as over 7,000 last month thanks to the tightened antivirus restrictions and the active campaign for booster shots.
Still, concerns linger over a resurgence of the virus due to the Lunar New Year holiday later this month and the fast spread of the omicron variant.
On Friday, the government began administering U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc.'s Paxlovid antiviral COVID-19 treatment pills, a day after the first batch for 21,000 people arrived in South Korea.
Patients with a compromised immune system and those aged over 65 are on the priority list, the KDCA said.
South Korea has secured Pfizer's medication for 762,000 people, as well as oral pills made by U.S. drugmaker MSD for 242,000 people, with the second batch of Paxlovid for 10,000 people to be shipped by the end of this month, according to the government.
As of Friday, 43.38 million people, or 84.5 percent of the country's 52 million population, have been fully vaccinated, and 22.42 million, or 43.7 percent, have received booster shots, the health authorities said.