▶ COVID CASES SURGE IN SOUTH KOREA AS OMICRON SPREADS
South Korea's daily count of new COVID-19 cases has hit another fresh high as the ultra-contagious Omicron variant spreads.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday reported 14,518 cases from the last 24 hours.
It noted that children and teens accounted for nearly 31 percent of those newly diagnosed with the disease.
People aged 60 and older represented around 8 percent.
Officials also confirmed 34 additional virus-related deaths.
Amid spiking infection rates, the number of critically ill patients in ICUs nationwide dropped by 35 to 350, continuing a steady decline.
Under the government's new virus response system that aims to minimize critical cases and fatalities, rapid antigen self-tests are replacing PCR tests at testing sites, except for those aged over 60 or in high risk groups.
Starting February 3, local hospitals and clinics will also administer diagnostic tests and treat patients to help prevent an overload of the medical system.
Quarantine authorities predict the current coronavirus surge will lead to an increase in the number of severe cases in two to three weeks.
▶ NORTH KOREA FIRES TWO MORE MISSILES
North Korea has fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the East Sea, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The JCS said the missiles were launched from Hamhung, a northeastern coastal area, and flew around 190 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 20 kilometers.
The South Korean military is maintaining a heightened readiness posture in the case of further provocations.
Thursday's launch marks the sixth show of force by the North so far this year and the second this week.
The North claimed it launched ballistic missiles, including a purported hypersonic missile, on four separate occasions, and on Tuesday, South Korea said it detected the apparent testing of two cruise missiles, which has yet to be confirmed by Pyongyang.
Experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ramped up his country's testing activity in a bid to pressure the United States amid stalled nuclear talks.
Kim threatened last week to resume the testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which he suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with Washington.
▶ US RELAYS CONCERNS TO RUSSIA OVER UKRAINE CRISIS
The United States has issued its formal response to Russia's demands over the crisis on the Ukraine border.
Among Russia's list of its concerns was a demand for NATO to rule out the possibility of Ukraine and others ever joining the alliance.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had made no concessions on its core principles.
"The document we've delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia's actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground. We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances."
▶ KOREA EXPECTS LIMITED IMPACT FROM A FED RATE HIKE
South Korea plans to take measures to stabilize the country's financial market when needed, a senior government official said, after the Federal Reserve signaled a rate hike in March to tame inflation.
The finance ministry assessed the Fed's monetary policy stance as hawkish, but said the outcome of the U.S. central bank's latest rate-setting meeting is expected to have a limited impact on the South Korean market.
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