SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea’s daily coronavirus cases remained in the 2,000s for the sixth consecutive day Friday, prompting authorities to maintain the current level of virus restrictions for another two weeks ahead of back-to-back extended weekends this month.
The country reported 2,486 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,451 local infections, bringing the total caseload to 313,773, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
There were 16 more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 2,497.
As of 9 p.m. Friday, 2,070 new cases were reported across the country, down 232 from the same time the previous day. Of them, 74.5 percent were from the greater Seoul area, the agency said. New infections are counted until midnight and reported the following day.
The country’s fourth wave of the pandemic has worsened in the aftermath of the fall harvest Chuseok holiday last week, when masses traveled nationwide, with daily cases reaching a record high of 3,271 on Saturday.
The figure has stayed in the 2,000s this week, with 2,884 cases reported Wednesday and 2,563 on Thursday. Daily cases have remained above 1,000 for the last 87 days.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in an interagency meeting the country will maintain the current social distancing measures, which caps the number of people in private gatherings, for two more weeks starting Monday to clamp down on the recent surge in viruses.
The greater Seoul area has been under Level 4 distancing measures, the highest in the country’s four-tier system, since July, while other areas are under Level 3.
Under current rules, cafes and restaurants in the capital area are allowed to open doors until 10 p.m. and gatherings of up to six people are allowed in the capital area after 6 p.m. if four of them are fully vaccinated.
The decision comes before two extended weekends this month that health authorities expect will lead to more travel and fuel an even greater spread of the virus.
“The next two weeks will be a critical point in determining the virus curb system,” Lee Ki-il, a senior health official, said in a briefing. “We once again request the public’s understanding and cooperation.”
Authorities are betting on the restrictions to keep the virus situation under control as they aim for a return to normalcy later this year when the majority of the population becomes fully vaccinated.
Lee said authorities will monitor the situation over the next two weeks and will consider easing more restrictions, centered on fully vaccinated people.
Sohn Young-rae, another senior health official, said that changes to caps on private gatherings will likely be considered after two weeks when current measures expire.
A total of 39.35 million people, or 76.6 percent of the country’s population, have so far received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 25.7 million people, or 50.1 percent, have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said earlier this week that the country could start changing its virus strategy as early as later this month to eventually treat COVID-19 just like the seasonal flu.
Of the locally transmitted cases, the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the nation’s 51.3 million population and the nation’s virus hot bed in the latest wave, took up 76.7 percent of the total.
Seoul reported 907 new cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province 817 cases, with the western port city of Incheon adding 156 cases.
Areas outside the capital region have seen a rise in cases, with the southern city of Daegu reporting 84 new cases.
New cases from overseas arrivals, which include South Koreans, came to 35.
The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 323, down 13 from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 275,576, up 1,371 from a day earlier.