S.Korea reports record new COVID-19 cases as serious infections cause worry

South Korean students take college entrance exam, amid COVID-19 outbreak, in Seoul

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea reported a record high 3,292 new COVID-19 cases, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Thursday, as the country moves into the first phase of its "living with COVID-19" with loosened restrictions.

A rise in cases was predicted by officials and experts after many social distancing restrictions were lifted earlier this month after the country surpassed its goal of vaccinating 70% of its 52 million people. More than 78.5% are now fully vaccinated, including more than 90% of adults.

The KDCA says a rise in serious cases is also being driven by the waning effects of coronavirus vaccines provided to vulnerable groups such as the elderly earlier on in the process, leading to an increase in breakthrough infections.

As of Thursday there were 506 serious cases, down slightly from an all-time high 522 reported a day before.

To blunt that spike the KDCA said on Wednesday it has decided to shorten the dosing interval for booster shots for people aged 60 or older and those who live or work at nursing homes and other vulnerable facilities to four months.

Hospital beds are being filled rapidly around the greater Seoul area, with only about 30% of intensive care units (ICUs) left available as of Wednesday.

The KDCA said it will consider issuing a circuit breaker on the relaxed distancing curbs if more than 75% of ICU beds are used nationwide and other factors pose high risks.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Richard Pullin)