Hundreds being traced over Omicron outbreak tied to Seoul church

Health officials set up a one-day testing clinic outside an elementary school in South Korea

Gwangju health officials on Tuesday set up a one-day testing clinic outside an elementary school in the city. | Photo courtesy of Yonhap

SEOUL — The count of COVID-19’s Omicron variant in South Korea rose by 12 in one day to 36 on Tuesday, with three of those cases traced to Seoul for the first time.

Out of the 12 additional cases, three were “imported” cases involving recent travelers from South Africa and the rest were tied to an outbreak at a church in Incheon.

Seoul said in a news briefing its first three Omicron cases were identified among university students. The three students are among some 400 people who went to same church as the couple and their acquaintance who were identified Dec. 1 as Korea’s first official cases of the new variant.

The disease control authorities are contact-tracing some 1,300 people who have come across Omicron patients, 607 of whom are categorized as “close contacts.”

In Seoul and nearby Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, 91 percent of all intensive care COVID-19 beds had been filled by Monday afternoon, while the nationwide rate stood at 79 percent.

The number of patients classified as having severe or critical COVID-19 climbed yet again to a new high of 744, up 47 from the day prior. In the past week, an average of 741 patients were undergoing critical care each day.

To ease bed shortages, Korea made at-home recovery a requirement for all COVID-19 patients starting in late November.

By midnight Monday, 919 patients in the Seoul area were waiting for a hospital bed for more than a day, 310 of whom had been waiting for four days or longer. Over half, or 494, were in their 70s and older.

While Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the government aims to vaccinate 13 million people with a booster dose before the year’s end, just 3.9 million had gotten the extra shot as of Monday afternoon.

To date, COVID-19 has infected 482,310 people in Korea, leaving 3,957 dead.


South Korea reports 3 more Omicron cases

S. Korea puts reopening plans into reverse as cases soar, Omicron spreads

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