COVID-19 SURGE. Citizens wait in line to receive Covid-19 tests at a testing center in eastern Seoul on March 12, 2022. South Korea's daily Covid-19 cases stayed above 350,000 for the second straight day Sunday as the country is grappling with the fast spread of the Omicron variant. (Yonhap)

SEOUL – South Korea's daily Covid-19 cases stayed above 350,000 for the second straight day Sunday as the country is grappling with the fast spread of the Omicron variant.

The country reported 350,190 new Covid-19 infections, including 350,157 local cases, raising the total caseload to 6,556,453, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The tally fell from an all-time high of 383,664 on Saturday due largely to less testing on the weekend.

The Omicron variant is spreading at a breakneck speed as daily infections exceeded the 300,000 mark for the first time Wednesday, just a week after topping 200,000. Total cases also reached 6 million Saturday, jumping from 5 million in just three days.

The surge in virus cases pushed up the number of Covid-19 deaths and critically ill patients.

The country added 251 more Covid-19 deaths, raising the total deaths to 10,395, according to the KDCA. The fatality rate was 0.16 percent.

The number of seriously ill virus patients came to 1,074, up from the previous day's 1,066. The tally exceeded 1,000 for the sixth straight day.

On Friday, health authorities forecast the omicron wave is likely to peak in the coming weeks, with a weekly average of daily virus cases surging to up to 370,000.

Health experts said the number of critically ill Covid-19 patients will likely spike at the end of March or in early April, with some forecasting such people will likely increase by 50-100 every day in the coming weeks.

The government said the current medical system has no problem in treating up to 2,500 seriously ill virus patients, but experts voiced concerns about a possible shortage of hospital beds.

Amid the omicron wave, the government has shifted its focus to treating serious cases and preventing deaths, ending its rigorous contact tracing program, which was successful in containing the spread of the virus in the early stage of the pandemic.

It also increased the use of rapid antigen self-test kits and at-home treatment to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

Starting Monday, results from rapid antigen tests conducted by medical professionals will be accepted for officially confirming Covid-19 infections.

Also starting March 21, fully vaccinated South Koreans and foreign visitors from overseas do not need to be in self-quarantine for seven days, except for those from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Myanmar.

Of the locally transmitted cases reported, Seoul reported 67,814 new cases. The surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western city of Incheon added 91,469 and 20,237 new infections, respectively. Cases from overseas went up 33 to 30,239.

The number of patients receiving at-home treatment hit another high of 1.57 million, up 135,789 from the previous day.

As of midnight, 32.1 million people, or 62.6 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 44.4 million, accounting for 86.6 percent, according to the KDCA. (Yonhap)