New cases fall under 2,000; post-holiday infections in focus
Seoul (South Korea), September 16: South Korea's daily coronavirus cases fell under 2,000 on Thursday, but health authorities are keeping their guard up against potential virus flare-ups after an upcoming major holiday as infections continue to spread in the capital area.
The country added 1,943 COVID-19 cases, including 1,921 local infections, raising the total caseload to 279,930, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The latest caseload was down from 2,080 cases the previous day.
Daily cases have stayed above the 1,000 threshold for over two months amid the fast spread of the more transmissible delta variant nationwide.
The country added six more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 2,386. The fatality rate was 0.85 percent.
Infections in the greater Seoul area, home to half of the country's population, have been a challenge to the country's virus fight, with 80 percent of domestic cases being reported in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon.
The authorities are bracing for possible upticks after the Chuseok holiday, the Korean autumn harvest celebration, when tens of millions of people are expected to travel across the country. South Koreans will have a five-day holiday period from Saturday to Wednesday.
They will enforce special quarantine measures, including running COVID-19 testing clinics at highway rest stops, for two weeks through Sept. 26, urging people to stay at home and receive vaccine shots.
The authorities earlier extended the current social distancing measures -- Level 4 in the greater Seoul area, which is the highest in the four-tier system, and Level 3 in other regions -- for another four weeks through Oct. 3.
While limiting the size of private gatherings and restaurant business hours, the authorities have eased some restrictions to give leeway to vaccinated people.
A total of 34.97 million people, or 68.1 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 21.16 million people, or 41.2 percent, have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.
South Korea's COVID-19 vaccination program has been using vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Janssen.
The authorities said a first-shot vaccination rate of 70 percent is expected to be achieved this week. The country aims to reach herd immunity in November.
Of the newly confirmed domestic cases, 717 cases came from Seoul, 652 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 137 cases from the western port city of Incheon.
Busan, the country's second-largest city, added 56 cases, while the southeastern city of Daegu reported 47 more cases.
Imported cases, which include South Korean nationals, came to 22. The total number of imported cases is now at 14,049.
The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 348, down two from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 252,038, up 2,205 from a day earlier.