South Korea recorded more than 600,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a record number, as authorities believe the country is now near the peak of the pandemic linked to the Omicron variant.

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However, the number of serious cases and deaths remains low in this country of some 52 million inhabitants where the majority of adults are fully vaccinated and have received a third dose, according to official figures.

According to the WHO, South Korea now leads the world in the number of new cases recorded in the past seven days, with 2,417,174 people testing positive, followed by Vietnam with 1,776,045 cases.

“We have prepared for a surge in patient numbers since Omicron became dominant,” Lee Sang-won, a senior official with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said Thursday.

However, even government projections had not anticipated such a figure, he acknowledged.

Health authorities believe South Korea is close to peaking the wave of Omicron infections, according to Lee.

Once this has passed, the country will be able to return to normal life, according to the authorities.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, 11,481 people have died of COVID-19 in South Korea, according to health authorities.

The total case fatality rate in this country stood at 0.14% on Thursday, against 0.05 to 0.1% for seasonal flu, according to official statistics.

The spike in Omicron-related cases and its economic consequences will pose a challenge for South Korea’s newly elected president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who narrowly won the election last week.

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In February, Seoul abandoned its policy of “tracing, testing and treating positive people” as a dramatic rise in Omicron cases threatened to overwhelm its medical system.

Patients with mild or moderate symptoms are now advised to stay home for treatment.

The country has continued to ease its social distancing rules, under pressure from small business owners who say restrictions imposed over the past two years to deal with COVID-19 have pushed their businesses to the brink of bankruptcy.

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