The spread of the super contagious Omicron variant continues to push South Korea's daily COVID-19 caseload to new highs.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it recorded 16,096 new cases, representing a more than two-fold increase from last week.
Nearly 65 percent of cases were from the greater Seoul area and 35 percent were from non-capital regions.
Virus-related deaths rose by 24 to 6,678.
The number of critical COVID patients in ICUs stood at 316, down 34 from the previous day.
Based on the figures, about 79 percent of those severely ill are over the age of 60, but there are even patients in their 20s and teens, with the youngest receiving intensive treatment under the age of 9.
Health authorities are warning that cases will continue to surge to as many as 20-30,000 a day in the coming weeks.
▶ PM KIM URGES AGAINST LUNAR NEW YEAR TRAVEL
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum says he believes the Lunar New Year holiday could be a turning point in the country's fight against Omicron.
Kim has urged people not to travel to their hometowns and hold gatherings.
But if traveling is unavoidable, he said people should get tested for COVID-19 before and after their trips, use masks that are at least KF-80 and practice social distancing.
The prime minister also reminded that the government's new testing regimen starts tomorrow.
Rapid antigen test kits will be offered at more than 250 screening sites nationwide, with tests also available at local clinics.
▶ N. KOREA CONFIRMS STRATEGIC MISSILE TESTS
North Korea has confirmed its latest test of surface-to-surface tactical guided missiles.
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that regime leader Kim Jong-un did not attend Thursday's launch.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Pyongyang fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea in its sixth show of force this year.
North Korea also said it launched long-range cruise missiles on Tuesday that it claimed flew for more than 2 hours and 35 minutes and demonstrated the ability to hit an island target 1,800 kilometers away.
According to state media, the performance of the strategic weapons underscored their value in "boosting the war deterrence of the country."
The provocations come amid long-stalled nuclear negotiations with the United States.
▶ US SEEKS CHINA'S HELP TO CALM RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS
The United States has urged China to use its influence with Moscow to discourage any Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The BBC's Barbara Plett Usher reports from Washington.
China has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and it may have influence with Russia because the two countries have been drawing closer together as both of them, their relations with the West and especially the United States have grown more and more tense.
But, you know, that's the point really, that relations between the United States and China are at their lowest in years.
And so, when the Chinese foreign minister spoke about the State Department's request for them to take steps to bolster diplomacy, the response was NATO and the U.S. should also take seriously what they called the reasonable security concerns of the Russians, and also that all sides should avoid actions that hype up the crisis.
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