New virus cases in 700s for 2nd day; vaccinations top 2 mln
SEOUL-- South Korea reported more than 700 new virus cases for the second straight day on Thursday amid lingering woes over another wave of the pandemic. The number of vaccinations surpassed 2 million.
The country identified 735 more COVID-19 cases, including 715 local infections, raising the total caseload to 116,661, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The figure was the highest since Jan. 7 when the country reported 869 cases.
It was also the second straight day that the daily caseload hovered above 700 following 731 cases on Wednesday. The daily tally stayed in the 500s on Monday and Tuesday.
The average daily number of cases stayed well above 600 in the past week on rising cluster infections across the nation. The country added two more deaths, raising the death toll to 1,808. The fatality rate was 1.55 percent.
As of 9 p.m. Thursday, South Korea reported 737 new cases, up 87 from the same time on Wednesday. Daily cases, compiled by health authorities and local governments, are counted until midnight and announced the following morning. The greater Seoul area accounted for around 68.5 percent of the total.
Despite the steady upticks, South Korea decided to maintain the current level of social distancing rules through May 2 to contain the virus, although it placed more restrictions on entertainment establishments, such as nightclubs and bars.
The greater Seoul area, home to half of the nation's 52 million population, is under the Level 2 distancing scheme, the third highest in the five-phase system. The rest of the country is under Level 1.5, except for some municipalities that have adopted Level 2 measures.
Private gatherings of five or more people are banned nationwide.
Health authorities are struggling to secure more vaccines while ratcheting up the nationwide inoculation drive.
They aim to inoculate 3 million people by the end of this month and 12 million by the end of June. By November, the country hopes to create herd immunity.
"If we can complete vaccinations for vulnerable groups by June, we will be able to significantly reduce the fatality rate and infections risks," said Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official said. "Then, we can make our social distancing scheme and quarantine measures more stable."
South Korea has said that it has secured vaccines for 79 million people from the World Health Organization's global vaccine COVAX Facility project and pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson &amp;amp; Johnson's Janssen and Novavax.
The government said earlier it is seeking a "vaccine swap" agreement with the United States, but such a deal may not happen at least for the time being after a U.S. State Department spokesman said his country is currently focused on vaccinating Americans.
On Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in ordered his aides to review the possibility of introducing Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.
The government announced later in the day that more than 2 million people have received COVID-19 vaccines in South Korea.
An accumulated 2,034,236 people were administered with their first shots as of 6 p.m. Thursday as part of the nationwide campaign that kicked off on Feb. 26, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Health authorities said the milestone was achieved as the government increased the number of inoculation centers throughout the country. It also cited new vaccinations at 1,794 private medical facilities commissioned by the government.
Officials expect the country's daily vaccination capacity to surpass 300,000 by the end of this month.
There are currently 204 injection centers nationwide, but the country aims to have 264 vaccination centers by next week.
Pharmacists, therapists and dialysis patients, as well as social service workers, including police officers and firefighters, will be eligible to receive vaccine shots beginning Monday.
A total of 12,732 cases of side effects after vaccinations have been reported, up 199 from a day earlier, but 98.3 percent were mild symptoms, including muscle pain and fever.
A total of 52 deaths after vaccinations have been reported, according to the KDCA, up one from the previous day, though authorities have so far ruled out links between the deaths and the vaccinations.
Of the newly confirmed locally transmitted cases, 457 cases came from the capital area, with 229 from Seoul, 217 from Gyeonggi Province and 11 from Incheon, 40 kilometers west of the capital.
The southern port city of Busan, the country's second-largest city, reported 35 more cases.
Among virus clusters, a restaurant in eastern Seoul added eight more cases, raising its total to 71, while the number of cases linked to a karaoke business in Seongnam, southern Seoul, rose by 14 to 90.
There were 20 additional imported cases, down 19 from a day earlier. The country's total number of imported cases is now at 8,081.
Health authorities are keeping especially close tabs on COVID-19 variants from overseas that are believed to be more contagious.
Starting Thursday, all arrivals from South Africa and Tanzania are required to stay at state-designated shelters for 14 days upon their entry into South Korea.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients was 125, up nine from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 106,459 up 582 from a day earlier, with 8,394 people being isolated for COVID-19 treatment, up 151 from a day ago.
Source: Yonhap News Agency