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South Korea reported its first two cases of the omicron variant on Wednesday, media said, as daily coronavirus infections rose above 5,000 for the first time, stoking concern over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms.

A fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported, citing health authorities.

South Korea’s daily COVID-19 tally reached 5,123 as the country grapples with a rising numbers of severe cases.

The surge began in early November after the country relaxed restrictions. The new variant prompted the government to halt plans on Monday for a further easing.

South Korea also said on Wednesday that a U.N. peacekeeping conference expected to draw more than 700 people to Seoul next week would now be held online.

The country has fully inoculated nearly 92% of its adults and is now focused on vaccinating children and a booster program, but experts warned that cases would continue to rise until unvaccinated people obtained immunity through infection.

“To slow the pace of the current wave of infections, the authorities could bring down the number of cases by re-introducing some of the social distancing measures,” Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University.

South Korea said hospitals were treating 723 patients with severe COVID-19, a record number.

Nearly 90% of intensive care unit beds in the greater Seoul area are occupied, with 842 patients waiting for admission.

The Korean Medical Association urged the government to set up treatment facilities and allow antibody treatment for high-risk patients before they develop severe symptoms.

Authorities will secure at least an additional 1,300 hospital beds by mid-December, Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said during a COVID-19 response meeting.

More than 84% of the severely ill COVID-19 patients were aged 60 and above. Experts had pointed to waning antibody levels from the vaccines and urged the elderly to get booster shots.

Tuesday’s new cases bring South Korea’s total tally to 452,350 cases, with 3,658 deaths. Despite the rising hospitalization rate, the mortality rate remains relatively low at 0.81%, government data shows.

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