(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout; ADDS photos)
SEOUL, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases stayed below 4,000 for the third straight day Tuesday, but the number of critically ill patients hit a fresh high amid concerns over the global spread of the new virus variant.
The country reported 3,032 new COVID-19 cases, including 3,003 local infections, raising the total caseload to 447,230, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The country reported the highest daily cases of 4,115 to date on Nov. 24.
South Korea added 44 more deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 3,624. The fatality rate stood at 0.81 percent.
A child under the age of 10 has died from COVID-19 in the first death among children. The child had an existing medical condition and was confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus in a postmortem test, KDCA spokesperson Koh Jae-young said in a briefing, without providing any further details on the child.
Health authorities are currently tracing the path of the infection and will conduct an analysis to determine the exact cause of the child's death.
Critically ill patients reached an all-time high of 661, marking the seventh straight day such cases stayed above 600.
The emerging omicron variant across the globe has put South Korea on high alert, prompting the authorities to put a ban on foreign arrivals from eight African countries to block the inflow of the potentially more contagious variant.
On Monday, the government decided to halt the further easing of social distancing rules as health authorities continue to grapple with a rise in daily cases.
The KDCA said the pandemic risk level, a new five-tier assessment system introduced last week to evaluate the degree of COVID-19 risk, has reached the highest level in the country's capital area.
Health officials said it has become impossible to move on to the second phase of the country's ambitious scheme to gradually return to normal life.
South Korea had originally planned to further relax the virus curbs in mid-December after four weeks of the first-phase easing of distancing rules.
The KDCA also decided to speed up the administration of booster shots and secure more hospital beds over the next four weeks.
The bed occupancy rate in intensive care units for COVID-19 patients stood at 91 percent in Seoul and 88.5 percent in the greater Seoul region as of Tuesday. The figure for the country as a whole came to 78.5 percent.
The health authorities earlier said 75 percent of bed occupancy is a critical threshold.
The KDCA announced it will expand at-home treatment for all infected patients, while critically ill patients are hospitalized, as the country struggles with bed shortages.
Currently, hospitals nationwide reserve 10 percent of their ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.
Son Young-rae, a senior health official, voiced concerns over the growing number of older patients, saying that more than 85 percent of critically ill patients are adults aged 60 or over.
"The size and number of confirmed cases among the elderly are more important than the total number of confirmed cases," Son said in a briefing.
As of Tuesday, about 3.03 million people had received a booster shot, according to KDCA data.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 1,176 new cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province posted 907 more cases.
The number of cases from overseas came to 29, raising the total to 15,725.
A total of 42.54 million people, or 82.9 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 41.01 million people, or 79.9 percent, have been fully vaccinated.
The KDCA earlier said those aged between 18 and 49 will get additional vaccine shots five months after they are fully vaccinated.
It will also set the expiration date of the "vaccine pass" at six months starting Dec. 20.
Currently, high-risk facilities, such as bars and nightclubs, have introduced a vaccine pass system that requires visitors to be fully vaccinated or have a negative test result.