South Korea reported more than 400,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a new record, as the country continues to ease restrictions despite the wave of infections fueled by Omicron.
Health authorities said 400,741 cases have been recorded, which is the highest daily figure in the country since the start of the pandemic two years ago.
This spike in cases is the “last big challenge” facing the country, Sohn Young-Rae, a senior health official, said in a press briefing.
The government had expected the number of cases to be around that range, he said, adding that he believed it was near the peak of the Omicron wave.
“If we overcome this crisis, we will get closer to a return to normal,” he added.
According to WHO data, South Korea leads the global ranking of new cases reported in the past seven days with 2,358,878 cases, followed by Vietnam with 1,795,380 cases.
The vast majority of South Korea’s eligible population has been vaccinated and given a booster dose, and despite the record number of infections in the country of 52 million people, death rates remain very low.
The country has also continued to loosen its social distancing rules, under pressure from small businesses and self-employed Koreans who say restrictions imposed over the past two years have pushed their businesses to the brink.
The country has now introduced an 11 p.m. curfew for businesses and a six-person limit for private gatherings.
It will lift the mandatory quarantine on arrival for fully vaccinated visitors from March 21.
The government is expected to decide this Friday whether to further relax or maintain the current distancing guidelines.
Seoul last month scrapped its program of drastic health restrictions as a dramatic rise in Omicron cases threatened to overwhelm its healthcare system.