S. Korea's daily virus cases hit new record high amid relaxed virus curbs


South Korea's new coronavirus cases hit an all-time high on Thursday since the start of the pandemic amid eased social distancing rules, putting health authorities on alx over further upticks.


The country reported a record high of 3,292 new daily cases, including 3,272 local infections, raising the total caseload to 406,065, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).


Thursday's daily caseload marks the highest since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in January last year and exceeds the previous record of 3,270 reported on Sept. 25.


The surge in daily cases came after the country began easing antivirus restrictions for a gradual return to pre-pandemic life under the "living with COVID-19" scheme earlier this month.


Daily cases have stayed in the quadruple digits since July 7 amid growing cluster infections.

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The country added 29 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 3,187. The fatality rate stood at 0.78 percent.


Of the locally transmitted cases, 1,423 were reported in Seoul, 965 in the surrounding province of Gyeonggi and 195 in Incheon, a port city just west of Seoul.


The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 506, down 16 from an all-time high of 522 the previous day.


On Nov. 1, the government began its living with COVID-19 policy as part of a broader plan to lift the virus restrictions by the end of February.


But health authorities have warned that the country may not be able to advance the scheme if the current trend continues.


The KDCA put forth a new five-tier system on Wednesday to assess the COVID-19 risk level on a weekly basis and to decide whether to continue the eased social distancing scheme.


If the risk level reaches the fourth degree or higher, the government is supposed to carry out an "emergency uation" of the pandemic situation for the potential enforcement of contingency plans while halting the relaxed curbs.


The authorities will also immediately review whether to carry out contingency plans if hospital bed occupancy for severe cases surpasses the 75 percent threshold, according to the KDCA.


The government is grappling with a growing shortage of hospital beds reserved for seriously ill patients, as well as medical workers.


A total of 42.11 million people, or 82 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 40.31 million people, or 78.5 percent, have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.