South Korea is setting records this week for the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths.
According to the Associated Press, the country of almost 52 million people reported 5,352 new cases of the coronavirus Saturday, the third time the number topped 5,000 this week, and a record 70 patient deaths in the past 24 hours.
The country's death toll from the disease now stands at a high of 3,809, and another record high of 752 patients hospitalized in serious or critical condition, according to the AP report.
The increase in cases is attributed to a surge in the delta variant, which is overwhelming hospitals in the nation.
The new omicron variant is also emerging in the country with nine reported cases, including a wife, mother-in-law, and friend of a man that drove a Nigerian couple home from the airport, the article said.
Two others in the household that recently traveled to Nigeria were also reported to be infected and might have spread the variant at a Nov. 28 church event with hundreds of other people.
The World Health Organization labeled the new variant as a "variant of concern" Nov. 26 based on evidence that the variant has several mutations impacting its severity and how it spreads, the organization said in a statement Nov. 28.
The variant first appeared in South Africa, where the number of new cases is rising, but it is not yet clear if that is because the new variant is more contagious than delta or other previous variants, the organization said.
In addition to how quickly the omicron variant spreads, studies are also underway to see if it is more severe than its predecessors.
"There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with omicron are different from those from other variants," the organization said in its statement. "Initial reported infections were among university students — younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks. All variants of COVID-19, including the delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key."
As world health officials work to determine the severity and transmissibility of the new variant, countries around the globe are tightening travel restrictions and encouraging people to wear masks and continue social distancing practices to limit the spread.
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