• News Update 2/18/2022

▶ S. Korea Eases Curfews Despite Omicron Surge 

South Korea is set to ease some social distancing rules despite a rapid increase in new COVID-19 infections fueled by the very contagious Omicron variant. 

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum announced Friday that business curfews for restaurants, cafes and other major multiuse facilities will be extended until 10 p.m. 

But the six-person limit on private social gatherings will remain. 

The changes will be in place from Saturday until March 13. 

"The government saw the need to maintain social distancing until the Omicron outbreak passes its peak and shifts to a downward trend," Kim said, adding that some adjustments were inevitable, considering the need to support the livelihoods of small business owners. 

The move came amid strong backlash from small merchants and self-employed people who have been complaining about massive losses suffered due to antivirus curbs and forced closures. 

The prime minister said the government also decided to postpone expanding the vaccine pass system to youths aged 12 to 18 until April in order to give facilities more time to prepare. 

▶ Daily New COVID-19 Cases Surpass 100,000 

A total of 109,831 new infections were confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, the highest single day jump in cases since the start of the pandemic. 

Forty-five more virus-related deaths were also reported, while the number of critically ill COVID patients dropped by four from the previous day to 385. 

Data showed the bed occupancy rate in COVID ICUs nearing 30 percent. 

Health experts fear the COVID situation challenging hospitals and the medical system will only get worse as the variant has yet to reach its peak. 

The KDCA earlier warned that new cases could hit 170,000 a day by the end of this month, while others estimate they will exceed 200,000 in March. 

▶ Moon Pushes Parliament To Pass ₩14 Tln Extra Budget 

President Moon Jae-in has stepped up calls for the National Assembly to swiftly approve an extra budget bill worth 14 trillion won that was submitted last month. 

The president cited "desperate" hardships facing small merchants hit by prolonged COVID-19 restrictions. 

Moon urged for action amid a tug-of-war between Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki and political parties that have been demanding bigger spending from the government. 

▶ US Warns Russia Could Invade Ukraine In Days Fears of a new war in Europe resurged as U.S. President Joe Biden warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days. 

He said, "Every indication we have is they're prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine." 

He added that the U.S. has "reason to believe" that Russia is "engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in," but did not provide details. 

The White House said Biden planned to speak by phone Friday with trans-Atlantic leaders about Russia's military buildup and continued efforts at deterrence and diplomacy. 

▶ Mudslides In Brazil Kill More Than 100 People The first funerals have taken place in the flood stricken Brazilian city of Petropolis for those killed in Tuesday's devastating mudslides. 

There were 117 confirmed fatalities and more than 100 people still missing. 

The BBC's Katie Watson reports. 

You can see where the mud came through this neighborhood, wiping out every single house in its wake. 

Hundreds of firefighters and authorities are now on the ground trying to help with the recovery effort. 

But it is such a huge expanse. 

It's very hard to see where they actually are. It doesn't look like many people are on the ground. 

There's a feeling here that help didn't come soon enough.

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