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SEOUL, June 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported 51 more cases of the new coronavirus Saturday, the most in eight days, raising the alert over new cluster infections popping up across the densely populated greater Seoul area.
The new infections raised the country's total caseload to 11,719, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. This is the highest number of daily infections since the 58 reported May 29.
The number of new cases appeared to be flattening after hitting 79 on May 28. But the figure started to rise again due to infections reported at small churches in Incheon, west of Seoul, and Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital.
Of the 43 non-imported cases, all but three were reported in Seoul and adjacent areas.
Seoul added 23 cases, while Incheon, west of Seoul, and Gyeonggi Province, surrounding the capital, each reported 10 and seven cases.
The latest data comes as South Korea is grappling with a string of group infections linked to religious gatherings, nightclubs and a distribution center in the metropolitan area since relaxing its social distancing scheme on May 6.
Among the most recently identified clusters that raised the caseload was Richway, a Seoul-based health product retailer that specializes in door-to-door sales for mostly elderly consumers.
Cases traced to the unregistered business in the southwestern Seoul ward of Gwanak have reached 34 in just three days.
Some 73 percent of them were elderly patients who are more vulnerable to the virus. The country's mortality rate for COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older stands at 26.2 percent, much higher than 2.3 percent for all ages.
Health authorities said they plan to tighten the inspection of venues that were overlooked in the quarantine process to prevent additional outbreaks as seen in Richway.
The sharp increase reported Saturday is widely expected to heighten concerns ahead of the fourth and final round of school reopening scheduled for Monday.
It is also expected to put health authorities on heightened alert over containing the further spread of the infectious virus.
Earlier, health authorities decided to reinforce social distancing guidelines for the metropolitan area, shuttering public facilities again and ordering entertainment establishments to refrain from opening until June 14.
If the figures from the metropolitan area rise, South Korea will have to consider a return to strict social distancing.
South Korea's COVID-19 death toll remained flat at 273, while the number of people released from quarantine after fully recovering totaled 10,531, up 25 from the previous day, according to the KCDC.
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