(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 10, 19, 22)
SEOUL, July 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases bounced back to surpass 60 again on Thursday as imported cases continued to rise amid a slowdown in local infections.
The country added 61 cases, including 47 imported cases, raising the total caseload to 13,612, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
The tally marked a sharp rise from 39 new cases reported Wednesday and 33 new cases Tuesday.
It is also the second time this week that the daily rise of virus cases went above 60 following 62 new infections reported on Monday.
Infections coming in from overseas have been on a high plateau for weeks, with double-digit numbers for 21 consecutive days.
Thursday's newly identified imported cases mark the highest number since March 25, when the country reported 51 such infections.
Of the 47 additional imported cases, 20 of them are South Korean construction workers returning from Iraq, health authorities said. The total number of imported cases is now 1,966.
Health authorities said the number of imported cases coming from Iraq could increase further as more workers are set to return home. Yoon Tae-ho, a senior official at health ministry, said the government will come up with measures to protect South Koreans working at construction sites in the Middle East.
Imported cases have rebounded to double-digit numbers since June 26 as global virus cases have resurged amid eased lockdowns, while the number of foreign workers entering the country increased recently due to demand at local farms and factories for the summer season, experts here said.
In the southeastern city of Busan, health authorities are keeping close tabs on a Russia-flagged vessel that reported 17 virus-infected crewmen. Two other Russians on two separate ships at port have also been found to be infected. All 19 newly confirmed patients have been moved to a local hospital for treatment.
Last month, Busan saw cluster infections tied to Russia-flagged ships, with 19 related cases reported.
Due to rising cases involving Russian seafarers, health authorities said they will conduct virus tests on all crewmembers of Russian ships that have a lot of contact with local workers.
To stem the rise of imported cases, South Korea since Monday has required arrivals from four high-risk nations -- Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan -- to submit a certificate showing they tested negative for the virus.
South Korea will add two more countries next Monday, although it has not specified the countries for diplomatic reasons.
Health authorities said they will also impose strict quarantine measures regarding crew transfers.
Previously, foreigners entering the country for ship crew changes were eligible for visa-free entry. But starting on July 24, they will be required to hold a visa and need to submit a health certificate proving that they tested negative for COVID-19.
The regulation will apply to all countries, except for 21 nations that signed a visa waiver agreement with South Korea.
Of the 14 local transmissions, 11 were reported in the nation's Seoul metropolitan area -- six in Seoul, three in Gyeonggi Province and two in Incheon.
There were three additional COVID-19 cases at an office building in downtown Seoul, with the total for the capital city hitting 1,457 infected people.
Gwangju, Daejeon and Gangwon Province also reported one case apiece.
The number of new local infections stayed below 20 for the fourth straight day, though health authorities are still wary of sporadic outbreaks of COVID-19 across the country.
South Korea reported two additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 291, the KCDC said. Two more fatalities have been reported, but they have not been included in the official daily update. The most recent deaths all involved seniors in their 80s and 90s.
The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 12,396, up 48 from the previous day, while 925 are currently under treatment, up 11 from a day earlier.
The country has carried out 1,441,348 tests since Jan. 3.
The KCDC said South Korea so far has supplied remdesivir, an experimental drug conventionally used for Ebola, to 57 coronavirus patients in critical condition.
For the development of blood plasma-based treatments, so far 950 people who fully recovered from the virus have expressed their willingness to donate their blood plasma. Among them, health authorities said they have collected samples of plasma from 444 people.
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