New virus cases dip to 1,400s on fewer tests; tough restrictions extended

SEOUL-- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases fell to slightly below 1,500 on Sunday due to fewer tests over the weekend, while health authorities extended the tough restrictions ahead of a major national holiday.

The country added 1,490 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,461 local infections, raising the total caseload to 260,403, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The latest tally is down from 1,709 on Friday and 1,804 on Saturday.

Daily cases have stayed above 1,000 for the last two months amid the fast rise of the more transmissible delta variant.

The country added six more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 2,321.

As of 9 p.m., local governments and health authorities had reported 1,345 new cases, down 130 from the same time a day earlier. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the next morning.

New infections popped up in various settings across the nation, while a growing number of cases were reported in schools and kindergartens as the fall semester kicked off in late August.

The proportion of untraceable cases, whose transmission routes are unidentified, stood at 36 percent, breaking the record for the second consecutive day.

The reproduction rate, which refers to the number of people a single patient can infect, was 0.98 for the past two weeks, the KDCA said.

Health authorities have been stepping up antivirus efforts as the pandemic has shown few signs of abating due in large part to the spread of more transmissible COVID-19 strains, including the delta variant.

Ahead of the coming five-day weekend that includes Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, the government decided to keep the current distancing measures -- Level 4 in the greater Seoul area, which is the highest in the four-tier system, and Level 3 in other regions -- through Oct. 3.

But some of the restrictions will be eased.

The country has been banning gatherings of more than four people nationwide, but health authorities have decided to allow gatherings of up to six in the capital area, though they should include at least two vaccinated people during the daytime and four after 6 p.m.

Other updated measures include allowing restaurants and bars in the greater Seoul area to operate until 10 p.m., an hour later than the current restriction of 9 p.m.

Health authorities said earlier they may consider drawing up With Corona plans after the Chuseok holiday to mitigate COVID-19's impact on the local economy in response to growing complaints from small business owners.

Slightly more than 30 million people have been inoculated with their first vaccine shots as of 11:15 a.m., accounting for around 58 percent of the country's 52 million population, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

A total of 17.7 million, or 34.6 percent of the total population, have been fully vaccinated since the inoculations began Feb. 26, the KDCA said.

The country's inoculations topped the 10 million mark on June 10 and breached 20 million on Aug. 3. The vaccination rate has been rising as adults aged between 18 and 49 have started getting their shots since Aug. 26.

The country plans to provide at least one jab to 70 percent of the population by the end of September to create herd immunity in November.

Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said the government decided to partially ease distancing rules in line with the rising vaccination rate and expand incentives for fully vaccinated people in the future.

Jeon said authorities will increase the number of vaccine delivery vehicles and operate them for longer hours on weekends to speed up the vaccine rollout.

"The government is mulling ways to minimize the delivery time to vaccination centers to push up the inoculation rate," Jeon said in an interagency disaster response meeting.

Of the newly confirmed domestic cases, 505 were from Seoul, 441 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 98 from the western port city of Incheon, the authorities said.

Imported cases, which include South Korean nationals, came to 29.

The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 363, down 13 from the previous day.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 232,334, up 1,929 from a day earlier.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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