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SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- The number of additional new coronavirus cases stayed below 200 for the second day in a row Friday, but South Korea is likely to extend the enhanced social distancing scheme under way in the greater Seoul as untraceable cases and cluster infections continued to rise.
The country reported 198 new COVID-19 cases, including 189 local infections, raising the total caseload to 20,842, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
On Thursday, the country reported 195 new virus cases. South Korea has been posting triple-digit rises for around three weeks due to cluster infections tied to a slew of churches and an anti-government rally in central Seoul in mid-August.
After keeping the new cases of COVID-19 in two-digit figures for more than five months, South Korea added more than 100 cases on Aug. 14 before the number shot up to 441 on Aug. 27. It then fell below 300 on Sunday.
Health authorities implemented an enhanced social distancing scheme Sunday in the greater Seoul, which houses half of the 51-million population.
Under the scheme that runs for a week, restaurants in the Seoul metropolitan area can operate normally from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. but then can only offer takeout after that time. Franchise coffee chains can only offer takeaway around the clock.
South Korea already has implemented a Level 2 social distancing scheme nationwide since late August under which indoor meetings of more than 50 people and open-air gatherings of over 100 people are banned.
Karaoke rooms, clubs, PC cafes and buffets have been shut down.
Health authorities say the daily increase of around 100 COVID-19 patients is considered a manageable figure under the local medical system. They assess that the current stringent antivirus curbs have helped curb the spread of the virus to some extent.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul added 68 cases, while the surrounding Gyeonggi Province reported 55 cases.
Other municipalities reported additional infections, with the southwestern city of Gwangju adding 10 cases and the southeastern city of Daegu reporting seven new infections.
As of Thursday, 1,139 cases had been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections. The church members have been blamed for having been lax in implementing strict social distancing rules.
Their infections also have caused multiple stages of transmissions, leading to outbreaks in 27 other locations, including offices and hospitals.
Another 462 virus cases were tied to the Aug. 15 demonstration in central Seoul.
Other sporadic cluster infections were also observed across the nation.
A kimchi factory in Cheongyang, 124 kilometers south of the capital city, has reported 19 infections so far.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 157, up three from the previous day and setting a new record since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in late January.
The proportion of new patients with unidentified transmission routes hit a new record high of 24.4 percent over the past two weeks, indicating there could be more unknown infections in local communities. Cluster infections accounted for 41 percent of new outbreaks over the period.
Health authorities said the number of such patients is expected to continue to grow further down the road. The current figure already beats the government's previous estimated peak of 134.
South Korea added two more deaths, raising the death toll to 331. The fatality rate reached 1.59 percent.
The number of newly identified imported cases came to nine.
Among the imported cases, arrivals from China and Russia accounted for two each. There were cases from Turkey, France and the United States as well.
The accumulated number of imported cases reached 2,867. Foreign nationals accounted for roughly 36 percent.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 15,783, up 254 from the previous day. Around three-quarters of the patients reported here have been cured.
South Korea has carried out 2,018,906 COVID-19 tests since Jan. 3.
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