Omicron has forced South Korea to abandon a stringent COVID-19 response based on mass laboratory tests, aggressive contact tracing and quarantines to focus limited medical resources on priority groups, including people 60 and older and those with preexisting medical conditions.

Officials in South Korea tried to calm public fears amid concerns about a faltering pandemic response as daily cases and deaths reached record highs Thursday, AP reports.

The 429 deaths reported in the latest 24 hours were nearly 140 more than the previous one-day record set on Tuesday. Fatalities may further rise in coming weeks considering the intervals between infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

The 621,266 new coronavirus cases diagnosed by health workers were also a record daily jump, shattering Wednesday’s previous high of 400,624. That pushed the national caseload to over 8.2 million, with more than 7.4 million cases added since the start of February.

The outbreak has been significantly bigger than what had been forecast by government health authorities, who maintain that omicron is nearing its peak. Still, South Korea has a much lower rate of COVID-19 deaths in relation to population size than the United States or many European nations, which officials attribute to high vaccinations with more than 68% of the population having received booster shots.

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