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S Korea keeps crowd limits as Omicron causes 25-fold spike

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – South Korea will extend restaurant dining hours but maintain a six-person limit on private social gatherings as it wrestles with a massive coronavirus wave driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant.

The 109,831 new cases reported yesterday was another record and about a 25-fold increase from the levels seen in mid-January, when Omicron became the country’s dominant strain.

The more than 516,000 infections counted in the past seven days alone raised South Korea’s caseload to over 1.75 million. Long lines snaked around public health offices and testing stations in the densely populated capital Seoul, where health workers in hazmat suits distributed rapid antigen test kits and collected throat and nasal samples from senior citizens and otherhigh-risk groups.

There’s also concern that campaigning for the March 9 presidential election could
worsen transmissions.

Thousands of supporters packed a rally in the southwestern city of Suncheon by ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung, where they clapped, shouted and chanted his name.

Lee’s conservative opponent Yoon Suk Yeol also drew huge crowds during a rally in the southeastern city of Sangju.

Omicron has so far seemed less likely to cause serious illness or death than the Delta variant, which hit the country hard in December and January.

But cases are growing much faster and appear to be putting the country on a verge of a possible hospital surge.

Medical workers guide people as they wait for their coronavirus test at a makeshift testing site in Seoul. PHOTO: AP

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