▶ NEW COVID-19 CASES IN S. KOREA TOP 5,000 FOR FIRST TIME
South Korea reported today more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases, marking its biggest single-day jump since the pandemic began.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency confirmed 5,123 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 48 involving international travelers.
The agency said 34 more lives were also lost to the virus, pushing the death toll to 3,658.
The number of COVID patients in critical condition, meanwhile, hit a fresh high of 723.
With a majority of new infections in the densely-populated greater Seoul area, and hospital ICUs in the region nearing maximum capacity, health authorities are on edge.
They are also waiting for confirmation on the country's first suspected cases of the new Omicron variant.
▶ GOVT CONSIDERS TOUGHENING ANTIVIRUS RULES
The government is now considering stricter coronavirus quarantine rules to deal with rising infections.
Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said Wednesday the changes could include reducing the caps on private social gatherings in the capital region and expanding the vaccine pass system to more public use facilities.
Jeon said these issues will be discussed later this week by a committee tasked with leading the gradual return to pre-pandemic life, with any decisions to be announced afterwards.
▶ OMICRON WAS IN EUROPE BEFORE SOUTH AFRICA
Authorities in the Netherlands say Omicron was present in Europe before South Africa officially reported its first cases on November 25.
The new variant was found in two Dutch test samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no travel history.
So far, well over a dozen countries and territories have detected cases, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Portugal and Japan.
But many more countries have responded by implementing travel restrictions, most targeting southern African nations.
The World Health Organization has warned that "blanket" travel bans risked doing more harm than good.
Scientists say Omicron has a high number of mutations, which may make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines.
Much is still unknown about the variant and it could take weeks to determine the extent of the threat it poses.
▶ SEOUL'S SECURITY ADVISER TO VISIT CHINA
Suh Hoon, the head of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, will visit China this week at the invitation of Beijing's foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi.
Suh will travel to Tianjin Thursday for a two-day trip, according to his office.
He will sit down with Yang to discuss bilateral issues, including North Korea.
They will also review President Moon Jae-in's plan to attend the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and potentially talk about his proposal to formally declare an end to the Korean War.
Moon made the suggestion in September at the United Nations General Assembly, saying South Korea, the U.S. and China could come together to make it happen.
▶ COLD SNAP TO STICK AROUND UNTIL SATURDAY
Frigid conditions are gripping regions across the country.
The Korea Meteorological Administration said temperatures will hover in the low single digits in most parts throughout the day, with wind chill readings falling well below the freezing point.
Temperatures are forecast to drop further later in the evening.
Expect similar weather through Saturday, with a slight chance of light rain or snow on Friday, before the return of warmer conditions on Sunday.