South Korea has recorded more than 8000 new coronavirus infections for the first time as health authorities reshape the country's pandemic response to address a surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The 8571 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Tuesday followed three straight days exceeding 7000.
With omicron spreading more than twice as fast as the Delta variant that caused the last surge, experts say new cases may exceed 10,000 this week and possibly 20,000 after the Lunar New Year's holiday break that begins this weekend and continues to next Wednesday.
To prevent a sudden explosion of infections from overwhelming hospitals and disrupting workplaces and essential services, South Korea will reduce quarantine periods, expand testing and treat more people at home.
From Wednesday, the quarantine periods for people who test positive after being fully vaccinated will be reduced from the current 10 days to seven days.
Fully vaccinated people who comes in close contact with virus carriers will not be placed under quarantine.
Officials also plan to treat a larger number of mild or moderate cases at home and expand the use of rapid antigen tests.
Park Hyang, a senior health ministry official, pleaded people to stay home during the holidays and get vaccinated.
While those who were not fully vaccinated accounted for less than seven per cent of South Koreans 12 years or older, Park said during a briefing that those people accounted for about 60 per cent of serious cases and deaths in the past eight weeks.
Australian Associated Press
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