SEOUL-- South Korea reported fewer than 120,000 coronavirus cases for the fifth straight day Wednesday as the omicron-fueled spike in infections slows down.
The country added 111,319 new COVID-19 infections, including 17 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 16,583,220, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The new tally is down 84,100 cases, or 43 percent, from a week ago in an apparent sign that the omicron variant is loosening its hold.
Since the virus peaked at 621,178 cases on March 17, it has been retreating.
The COVID-19 reproduction rate, which represents new infections estimated to stem from a single case, stood at 0.78, according to the KDCA. The rate peaked at 9.35 for the week of Feb. 16-22 in 2020, when a large cluster of infections tied to a church broke out in the southeastern city of Daegu.
South Korea lifted most pandemic restrictions Monday to help small business owners suffering financial damage and to gradually restore pre-pandemic normalcy.
But it kept in place the universal mask mandate, considering that the country is still seeing tens of thousands of daily virus cases.
South Korea had reported 70,528 cases as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, down by 22,527 from the same time the previous day.
Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning. The country has typically had a high number of cases on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This is the first time since Feb. 16 that the 6 p.m. tally stayed below 100,000.
South Korea has averaged 107,528 cases per day over the past seven days.
The government said it will decide in early May whether to lift the mandate at outdoor places, while keeping the indoor mask-wearing requirement for "a considerable time."
It will also review whether to use only PCR tests as a testing method.
The government is using PCR and rapid antigen tests concurrently as infection cases spike and there are limited quantities of medical resources.
Those who test positive on a rapid antigen test at a local clinic are officially counted as COVID-19 patients.
"When the prevalence rate declines, the positive predictive value of the test tends to go down," Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said during a daily briefing, referring to the portion of positive tests that detect an actual infection.
"As the test accuracy of a rapid antigen test could fall in such case, there is a need to reconsider whether to accept the testing result," he said.
The death toll from COVID-19 came to 21,520, up 166 from the previous day. The fatality rate was 0.13 percent. The number of critically ill patients came to 808, down 26 from a day ago.
Of the locally transmitted infections, Seoul reported 18,322 cases and its surrounding Gyeonggi Province added 28,557 cases. Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, identified 5,435 cases.
As of midnight Tuesday, 44.53 million, or 86.8 percent of the 52 million population, had been fully vaccinated, and 33 million, or 64.4 percent, had received booster shots, the KDCA said.
The country has started to administer second COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to people over 60, four months after their first booster dose.
Source: Yonhap News Agency