SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 infections reached yet another grim milestone of over 13,000 on Wednesday as worsening fears over the rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant continued to grip the country.
The country added 13,012 new cases, including 12,743 local infections, taking the total caseload to 762,983, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The latest count is a big jump from Tuesday, when daily infections hit a record of 8,571 since the country reported the first COVID-19 case on Jan. 20, 2020. The daily figures have spiked from around 3,800 to over 7,500 since early last week.
The country reported 32 deaths from COVID-19, raising the total to 6,620. The fatality rate stood at 0.87 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients dropped by seven to 385 from the previous day.
South Korea began to implement a new virus response system designed to minimize disruptions and focus on reducing critical cases and deaths.
Under the regime, local hospitals and clinics will administer tests and treat patients, and rapid antigen tests will replace polymerase chain reaction tests at testing sites, except for those aged over 60 or high-risk groups.
The system will initially apply in four areas seeing a surge in omicron cases -- the southwestern city of Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, and the cities of Pyeongtaek and Anseong in Gyeonggi Province.
Starting Saturday, the system will expand nationwide, with the introduction of rapid antigen tests at 256 testing sites across the country.
The quarantine and at-home treatment period for vaccinated COVID-19 patients has been cut down to seven days from 10. A vaccinated person who comes into close contact with a COVID-19 patient won't have to quarantine but needs to take a PCR test about a week after the initial contact.
Health authorities have warned the infections could surge to five-digit figures in the coming weeks, possibly topping 30,000 a day next month, should the current pace of the omicron spread continue.
The omicron variant became the new dominant COVID-19 virus strain in South Korea, 52 days after the first such case was reported.
Of the locally transmitted cases Wednesday, Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 4,184 new COVID-19 cases, followed by Seoul with 3,110 and the western port city of Incheon at 860.
The number of imported cases was tallied at 269, bringing the total to 24,234.
As of Wednesday, 25.78 million people, or 50.3 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received booster shots, the KDCA said. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 43.87 million people, accounting for 85.5 percent.