▶ COVID-19 Cases Soar In S. Korea As Omicron Spreads
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has reported another day of more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases.
A total of 53,797 local transmissions and 129 imported cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours.
The death toll from COVID-19 rose by 49 to 7,012.
The number of critically ill coronavirus patients in ICUs stood at 271, while the number of at-home patients increased to over 177,000.
New infections have soared by nearly fourfold over the past two weeks due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has become dominant in the country.
Officials have warned daily case figures could reach 170,000 in the coming weeks.
But the National Institute of Mathematical Sciences, a state-run think tank, has estimated that number could even reach 360,000 by early next month.
▶ Rapid Antigen Test Kits In High Demand
As Omicron surges across South Korea, demand has drastically increased for rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits, causing scarcity and price hikes.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the government is considering imposing a price ceiling on self-test kits to ensure stable supply as more people must use them under a new testing policy that took effect last week.
Rapid testing has been expanded for the general public and PCR lab tests prioritized for high-risk groups, including people in their 60s and older and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Authorities said the change allows medical workers to focus efforts on older adults who are at higher risk for severe infection while others with mild to no symptoms monitor themselves at home.
In response to criticism that the government is turning a blind eye to asymptomatic patients, Kim said that is not the case, stressing the goal is to ensure adequate health services for all.
Kim added that more support funds will be provided to COVID patients recovering from the disease at home.
▶ Blast At Yeosu Plant Leaves Four Dead
At least four workers are dead after an explosion this morning at a petrochemical factory in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province.
Four others were injured in the blast at the Yeochun NCC company plant.
Police and firefighters suspect the accident occurred during a test of the factory's heat exchange ventilation system.
An investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of the explosion.
▶ US Urges Americans To Leave Ukraine
U.S. President Joe Biden has told American citizens remaining in Ukraine to leave, adding that he will not send troops to evacuate them if Russia should invade.
It follows a new advisory from the U.S. State Department on Thursday, warning that America's consulate service in Ukraine would be severely impacted if the country comes under attack.
The BBC's North America correspondent Peter Bose reports.
In an interview with NBC News, Mr. Biden said American citizens should leave Ukraine now.
"We are dealing with one of the largest armies in the world," he said, referring to Russia's buildup of troops along the border with Ukraine.
He added "things could go crazy very quickly."
Mr. Biden said there was no scenario whereby American troops would be sent in to help evacuate U.S. citizens.
If Americans and Russians started shooting at one another, he said, it would be a "world war."
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