New infections rise back to 700s amid variant concerns

SEOUL-- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases rose back to the 700s for the first time in 10 days Saturday as the country remains on alert for a potential upsurge in variant cases.

The country reported 701 more COVID-19 cases, including 672 local infections, raising the total caseload to 126,745, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement.

The daily caseload reached 488 on Monday on fewer tests over the weekend and stayed under 700 from Tuesday to Friday. There were 760 daily infections on April 28.

The country added five more deaths, raising the death toll to 1,865, with the fatality rate at 1.47 percent, the KDCA said.

As of 9 p.m., 489 new infections were reported nationwide, down by 154 from the same time a day earlier. Seoul added 188 new cases.

The cases rebounded as people increasingly have been going out to enjoy the warmer weather and have family meetings, as well as more mutated cases being reported in the southeastern city of Ulsan.

In its stepped-up efforts to contain mutated cases in Ulsan, health authorities increased the number of temporary screening centers to 10 from three and advised citizens to take virus tests.

The city reported more than 300 COVID-19 variants since early March and most of the cases are believed to be from Britain.

The government also focuses on preventing Indian variant cases from entering the country as more South Koreans are expected to return from India this month. Nearly 400 people have already returned from the virus-hit country.

President Moon Jae-in called on people to have their parents receive a coronavirus vaccine first and then get vaccinated themselves.

"Receiving vaccines is the most filial piety. ... It is the fastest way to return to normal life," Moon said in a Facebook message marking Parent's Day.

The KDCA is accelerating the vaccination campaign as the country aims to achieve herd immunity by November.

A total of 3,662,587 people, including 38,982 the previous day, have received at least their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, accounting for 7.1 percent of the country's population, since the country started its vaccination program on Feb. 26.

AstraZeneca's vaccine has been given to 2 million people, while 1.66 million have received that of Pfizer.

A total of 19,394 cases of side effects after vaccinations have been reported, up 523 from a day earlier.

A total of 95 post-vaccination deaths have been reported, although the exact causes of the deaths remain unknown as they could not determine causality, the health agency said.

Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 240 new cases, and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital city identified 192 new patients.

Gangwon Province registered 27 additional cases, South Gyeongsang Province 37 cases, and Busan and Ulsan, major cities in the southeastern region, reported 26 and 47 new cases, respectively.

Cases linked to a public bath facility in Ulsan rose by one to 19, and infections related to an insurance company in the same city reached 11 on Saturday.

Currently, the greater Seoul area, home to more than half of the country's 52 million people, is under Level 2 social distancing, the third highest in the five-tier scheme, with the rest of the country under Level 1.5.

Gatherings of five or more people are banned nationwide, with exceptions for family members.

There were 29 new imported cases, up 13 from a day earlier. Among them, 14 were South Koreans and 15 were foreigners, the KDCA said.

The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 165, up three from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 116,881, up 859 from the previous day.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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