New cases over 700 for 4th day, distancing rules in greater Seoul likely to be maintained

SEOUL-- South Korea's daily new virus cases stayed in the 700s for the fourth day in a row Tuesday, as health authorities struggle to prevent infections from spreading further amid concerns about a spike in cases of the contagious delta COVID-19 variant.

The country reported 746 more COVID-19 cases, including 690 local infections, raising the total caseload to 161,541, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

The latest figure is compared with 826 on Friday, which marked a nearly six-month high due to the sharp spike in new cases in the Seoul metropolitan area, as well as 794 on Saturday, 743 on Sunday and 711 on Monday.

The country added four more COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 2,032.

The nation's daily average of local COVID-19 infections stood at 655 people over the past week, up 33.2 percent from a week earlier, the KDCA said.

About 80 percent of new infections came from Seoul and its neighboring areas, with people in their 20s and 30s, most of whom are not eligible for vaccinations, fueling new cases, it said.

A total of 416 patients had been infected with the delta variant in the nation as of Sunday, KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said earlier.

South Korea is at a "critical point" to prevent COVID-19 infections in the greater Seoul area from spreading into other regions, Jeong said.

Along with the delta variant, other variant cases shows signs of growing. A total of 2,817 people have been infected with COVID-19 variants so far, and 325 such cases have been confirmed over the past week.

Of the 325 cases, 168 were infected with the alpha variant and 153 with the delta variant, the KDCA said.

The greater Seoul area appeared to become a breeding ground for COVID-19 variants with about half of locally transmitted variant cases being reported from the region, according to the KDCA.

The government has delayed the adoption of eased distancing measures by one week till Wednesday amid the recent virus resurgence, and authorities said they will closely monitor the latest situation before deciding Wednesday whether to implement the relaxed virus curbs in the wider Seoul area.

Under the new rules, the ban on private gatherings of five or more people and the 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants had been expected to be lifted.

South Korea and Israel agreed on a COVID-19 vaccine swap, and about 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive here Wednesday under the agreement, Jeong said.

Jeong said South Korea will consider delivering COVID-19 vaccines to other nations if the nation has a surplus vaccine supply.

A total of 15.4 million people, or 30 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines. The KDCA said 5.32 million people have been fully vaccinated, accounting for 10.5 percent of the population.

The country currently administers two-dose vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Janssen's single-shot vaccine.

Of the newly confirmed domestic cases, 313 were from Seoul, 224 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 20 from the western port city of Incheon.

There were 56 additional imported cases, with 44 of them from Asian nations, excluding China.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 150,760, up 716 from a day earlier.

Source: Yonhap News Agency