SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Korea Bizwire) – South Korea’s new coronavirus cases dropped to the lowest level in a month on Saturday, but authorities are vigilant over chains of cluster infections coupled with looming concerns over a COVID-19 variant.
The country added 641 more COVID-19 cases, including 596 local infections, raising the total caseload to 67,999, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
It was the lowest daily figure since Dec. 8, when the country added 594 additional cases. The nation reported fewer than 1,000 daily cases for the fifth consecutive day.
It also dropped from the previous day’s number of 674.
Authorities attributed the latest signs of a slowdown in the local spread of the virus to the country’s tough social distancing policies.
South Korea has been operating the so-called Level 2.5 social distancing scheme in the greater Seoul area, which is the second highest in the country’s five-tier scheme, since Dec. 8.
Private gatherings of five or more people are banned across the nation during the designated period.
High-risk entertainment venues, including bars, clubs and karaoke establishments, in the Seoul metropolitan area will be allowed to conditionally reopen when the current Level 2.5 measures expire on Jan. 17.
Despite the slowdown, however, local authorities are keeping a watchful eye on a new virus variant that was first reported in Britain.
As of Friday, South Korea has reported a total of 16 cases of the new COVID-19 strain.
South Korea has banned flights from Britain since Dec. 23, with the ban extended until Jan. 21.
“The spread of the virus has reached the peak and is slowly flattening,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said. “But considering the pace of the third wave of the pandemic, the number can rebound at any time.”
Of the newly identified local infections, 180 cases were reported in Seoul and 195 cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported 46 more cases. The three areas represent around half of the nation’s population.
The Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul, which recently emerged as a hotbed of local infections, has reported 1,180 cases so far.
A nursing home in Seoul added six more patients, raising the caseload to 45. A taxi firm in southern Seoul also reported 16 new patients, with the total reaching 17.
In Gyeonggi Province, a church from Yongjin identified 37 new cases, raising the number of related cases to 160.
Another nursing home from North Jeolla Province has found 96 patients so far, up 20 from the previous day.
A total of 154 infections have been reported from a religious center in North Gyeongsang Province.
Authorities said the tally would rise further, as some 70 percent of 2,800 people who visited the center during a two-day event late last year have not been tested yet.
Among the confirmed cases, they noted that 45 patients were from eight different cities and provinces, including Incheon, west of Seoul, and the southern port city of Busan, and those patients have apparently transmitted the virus to about 350 people across the country.
Over the past two weeks, cluster infections accounted for 21.3 percent of the newly added cases over the period. Transmission routes of 26 percent of such infections also remain unknown.
Authorities said they were able to find 66 new patients over the period by carrying out preemptive COVID-19 tests at local medical facilities.
The number of imported cases came to 45.
Of the imported cases, the United States took up 29, and Russia accounted for four.
South Korea added 19 more deaths, raising the total to 1,100.
The fatality rate reached 1.62 percent.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 409 on Saturday, up five from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 49,324, up 955 from the previous day. This indicates more than 72 percent of the patients reported here were cured.
South Korea has carried out 4,689,616 COVID-19 tests since last year, including 59,612 from the previous day.