SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases stayed below 200 for the eighth consecutive day Thursday, but a spate of cluster infections continued to strain the country's efforts to bring the daily numbers under two digits.
The government will decide this week whether to extend tougher anti-virus measures in place in the greater Seoul area.
The country added 155 more COVID-19 cases, including 141 local infections, raising the total caseload to 21,743, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Thursday's tally was nearly unchanged from the 156 cases reported Wednesday.
South Korea has been posting triple-digit infections for nearly a month since Aug. 14. The recent spike was mainly attributable to cases tied to a conservative church in northern Seoul and an anti-government rally held last month.
Helped by the country's toughened social distancing measures, the number of daily new cases has been gradually falling after hitting 441 additional cases on Aug. 27, despite some ups and downs.
Health authorities said the latest outcomes are "positive," but the country cannot lower its guard, as sporadic cluster infections have continued.
South Korea will soon decide whether to extend the enhanced social distancing scheme in the greater Seoul area, which is due to expire Sunday, by another week.
Health authorities have said a daily increase of around 100 COVID-19 patients is considered a manageable level under the current medical capability.
Restaurants in the Seoul metropolitan area can operate normally from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., but then can only offer takeout after that time. Franchise coffee chains, bakeries and ice cream parlors can only offer takeaway around the clock.
The measures were adopted amid concerns that a new wave of the pandemic in the densely populated capital area that houses around half of the country's 51-million population would be much more catastrophic than the massive outbreak in Daegu in late February and early March.
More than 5,000 virus cases were traced to the minor religious sect of Shincheonji in Daegu, a city with around 2.5 million residents.
South Korea adopted what it calls the Level 2 social distancing scheme for other parts of the country in mid-August, under which indoor meetings of more than 50 people and open-air gatherings of over 100 people are banned. This will run through Sept. 20, though it could be extended.
Of the newly identified local infections, 46 cases were reported in Seoul and 47 from Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital.
Other municipalities reported new infections, with the central city of Daejeon adding 11 cases and Incheon, just west of Seoul, reporting five new cases.
Cases traced to Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections, reached 1,167 as of Wednesday. Cases tied to the anti-government rally in Seoul on Aug. 15 reached 551.
Other sporadic cluster infections continued throughout the nation.
A Buddhist facility located in western Seoul reported 14 patients so far. A logistics center of e-commerce giant Coupang located in eastern Seoul reported 12 cases.
Another Catholic church in northern Seoul posted five patients as well.
The proportion of patients with untraceable infection routes over the past two weeks came to 22.2 percent, according to the latest data provided Wednesday, also straining the country's virus fight. A whopping 41.5 percent were linked to cluster infections.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 169, up 15 from the previous day. Health authorities are worried that the recent spike will lead to shortages in hospital beds, as well as more deaths, as most of them are seniors.
South Korea is bracing itself for the Chuseok holiday, which runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 this year. The Korean autumn harvest celebration is one of the country's biggest traditional holidays and serves as a chance for family members to visit their hometowns.
Health authorities have advised that the reunions should be held virtually, otherwise new infections could surge.
The country, meanwhile, reported 14 imported cases.
South Korea reported two more deaths, raising the total to 346.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 17,360, up 337 from the previous day.
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