(ATTN: ADDS details in 2nd para, paras 24-26)
SEOUL, July 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new virus cases hit the highest level in two weeks Friday as infections outside the Seoul metropolitan area showed a sustained increase, raising concerns that the country's infections may get back on an upward trajectory.
Health authorities warned that the country may need to brace for spiking virus cases in the fall and winter.
The country added 63 cases, including 52 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,967, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
The tally marked the highest since 67 cases reported on June 20 and a rise from 54 reported a day earlier.
It was the first time that the number of local infections hovered above the threshold of 50 since June 18.
Of the locally transmitted infections, six cases were newly identified in Gwangju, 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul, where double-digit numbers of new virus cases had been reported for the previous two days.
Most of the cases in the city have been traced to a Buddhist temple there. The number of cases linked to the facility rose by eight to reach 57 on Friday.
The greater Seoul area reported 12 new cases, with its surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding 16 new infections.
A total of 21 virus cases have been connected to an apartment facility in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, up seven from a day earlier.
Daegu, once the hotbed of the country's virus outbreak, added 13 new cases. The city accounts for more than half of the country's COVID-19 cases here, due to thousands of virus infections traced to a religious sect in the city.
It marked the first time for Daegu to post a double-digit number of new patients in around three months. The latest spike was attributable to cluster infections from an acting school.
A total of 11 COVID-19 patients were linked to the acting school. Health authorities said they are currently carrying out tests on around 1,500 students and teachers from four high schools where the patients enroll.
Daejeon, a central city 164 kilometers south of Seoul, also reported four more infections.
Earlier this week, two elementary students in Daejeon also tested positive after coming in contact with a peer.
Health authorities said one of the two is highly likely to have been infected at the school. If confirmed, it would mark the first case of the virus being transmitted at a school in South Korea.
Schools were given the full go-ahead to hold offline classes in June, but some of them were forced to shut down due to sporadic cluster infections. The country normally begins a new semester in March.
No further secondary infections from schools have been reported so far, but parents are increasingly concerned about the safety of their children. The number of schools closed temporarily due to the coronavirus outbreak rose to 523 nationwide Friday.
Over the past two months, densely populated Seoul and the surrounding area, which house around half of the country's 51-million population, took up most of the newly added cases here.
The trend has prodded health authorities to focus on curbing the spread of the virus in the greater Seoul area. Last month, they decided to indefinitely apply toughened infection preventive measures in the region amid the growing number of patients from clubs and door-to-door businesses.
With other major cities reporting new cluster infections, health authorities, however, are increasingly under pressure to consider readopting the scheme elsewhere.
"There has been a series of small cluster infections nationwide, which put great strain on provincial governments and health authorities," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a briefing, pointing out that the country is facing a "grave" situation.
Health authorities said it is worrisome that around 12 percent of the newly added patients over the past two weeks had unknown infection routes.
The country may have to prepare for a spike in virus cases in the fall and the winter seasons as the coronavirus can be further activated.
"The virus can become even more active under lower temperatures," KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said during a local radio interview, pointing out that the pandemic can further escalate during autumn and winter as people spend more time indoors.
"As most South Koreans are still not immune to COVID-19, there will be some smaller or bigger outbreaks before a vaccine becomes available," Jeong added.
The country reported no additional deaths, with the death toll staying at 282. The fatality rate was 2.17 percent.
The number of new imported cases reached 11, marking a double-digit rise for the eighth consecutive day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 11,759, up 75 from the previous day. This indicates that more than 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients here have been cured.
The country has carried out 1,307,761 tests since Jan. 3.
BTS fails to win Grammy for 3rd consecutive year
Pirates' Choi Ji-man says 'deeply hurt' to be dropped from WBC team
Son Heung-min partially wins lawsuit filed by former agent
S. Korea closely watching N. Korea's 'increased' activities to prepare for military parade: Seoul official
(LEAD) 23 Thai tourists out of contact after arriving in Muan Int'l Airport
Yoon's visit to UAE, Switzerland ends in economic deals
(News Focus) Fate of inter-Korean military accord hangs in balance amid Pyongyang's recalcitrance
N. Korean drone incursions pose complex security challenge to S. Korea
S. Korea puts priority on tackling inflation, revitalizing exports in 2023 policy goals
Yoon's outreach to Southeast Asia keeps China in the loop