New virus cases over 2,100 for 3rd day ahead of lifting of virus curbs
South Korea's new COVID-19 cases stayed above 2,100 for the third straight day on Saturday, amid jitters over a possible spike as the country is about to relax antivirus measures for a return to normalcy.
The country added 2,104 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,089 local infections, raising the total caseload to 362,639, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The virus curve had appeared to be flattening over the past few weeks, dipping to 1,190 on Monday from an upward trend that peaked at 3,272 on Sept. 25 amid the fourth wave of the pandemic that began in July. But the tally climbed back this week and surpassed 2,000 on Thursday.
The death toll rose by 13 to 2,830 on Friday. The fatality rate stood at 0.78 percent.
Health authorities and local governments had reported 1,877 new cases as of 9 p.m., up 43 from the same time the previous day. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
Of those, 1,454 cases, or 77.5 percent, were identified in the densely populated greater Seoul area, home to half of the 52 million population.
The recent spike adds to concerns over yet another virus resurgence, as the country is set for a transition to normalcy with a package of relaxed antivirus measures set to take effect starting Monday.
Cluster infections continued to be reported, with a psychiatric and nursing home facility in the southern provincial city of Changwon adding 41 new cases to bring the total to 162. The facility will be under cohort isolation until Nov. 11.
Health officials said they were also investigating the death of a third-year high school student in September, which came about two months after he was vaccinated.
The "living with COVID-19" scheme is aimed at lifting most of the virus restrictions by the end of January next year, backed by a rising vaccination rate at over 73 percent.
The scheme also intends to resume in-person classes at kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools from Nov. 22, with universities and colleges to gradually follow suit.
Under the first of the three-phase scheme, rolled out Friday, people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 10 in the greater Seoul area and up to 12 in non-metropolitan regions, regardless of vaccination, from the current ceilings of eight and 10 maximum. Mask-wearing rules will stay in effect.
Operation hour curfews for businesses will be fully lifted, except for nightlife establishments, although limits on unvaccinated customers at cafes and restaurants will be applied.
The gathering limits will completely be lifted over the next two phases, which will bring back large concerts and parties.
The "vaccine pass" system, which requires visitors to have a vaccination certificate or negative test result, will be introduced for high-risk facilities, such as bars, nightclubs and indoor gyms, with a grace period of one or two weeks.
About 41.09 million people, or 80 percent of the country's 52-million population, had received their first COVID-19 vaccine shots as of Friday. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 38.29 million, or 74.6 percent.
Of the locally transmitted cases reported Saturday, Seoul had 704 cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province logging 713 cases and Incheon, west of Seoul, 122 cases.
Fifteen cases came from overseas, putting the cumulative total at 15,084.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 334,581, up by 1,586 from a day earlier, the KDCA said.
Source: Yonhap News Agency