ANTIGEN TEST. A medical worker calls the name of a visitor waiting to take a rapid antigen test for Covid-19 at a clinic in Seoul on March 18, 2022. South Korea's new Covid-19 cases hit above 400,000, led by the wave of the highly transmissible omicron variant, amid the government's steps to shift away from rigorous social distancing. (Yonhap)

SEOUL – South Korea's new coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases fell below 400,000 on Saturday but concerns linger over the highly transmissible omicron variant amid the government's move to shift away from rigorous social distancing.

The country reported 381,454 new Covid-19 infections, including 63 from overseas, raising the total caseload to 9,038,938, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

The latest tally is a sharp drop from the all-time high of 621,328 on Thursday, though the sudden spike in cases reflected some 70,000 cases omitted from the previous day's tally.

The fast spread of omicron has pushed up the virus curve in recent weeks, with the numbers hitting six digits in mid-February from four digits in late January.

The death toll from COVID-19 came to 12,101, up 319 from Friday. The fatality rate was 0.13 percent.

The number of critically ill patients stood at 1,049, the same as the previous day.

Starting Monday, the government will ease the limit on private gatherings to eight people from the current six while maintaining the 11 p.m. business curfew.

The latest social distancing rule comes amid growing pressure from small businesses and self-employed people hit hard by pandemic curbs.

The government will also consider a further easing of the virus curbs as it closely watches the omicron trend after it reaches a peak, predicted to come around next week.

Seoul reported 82,132 new infection cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province logging 101,523.

The western port city of Incheon reported 20,838.

As of Saturday, 32.34 million people out of the 52 million population, or 63 percent, had received booster shots.

Fully vaccinated people came to 44.45 million, representing 86.6 percent, the KDCA said. (Yonhap)