(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases rebounded to over 100 on Thursday mainly due to a new cluster infection in the southeastern port city of Busan amid an eased social distancing scheme.
The country added 110 COVID-19 cases, including 95 local infections, raising the total caseload to 24,988, with the death toll reaching 439, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The number of new daily local infections is a sharp hike from 53 a day earlier and also surpassed the 50 mark, one of the country's barometers for the lowest level of its social distancing scheme.
The spike in new virus cases came three days after South Korea lowered its three-tier social distancing scheme by one notch.
"The number of new (local) infections has stayed in the 60s over the past week, yet the number spiked to over 90 today due to the cluster infection case from a nursing facility in Busan," Second Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said in a government response meeting.
The health authorities earlier said they plan to conduct COVID-19 tests on all patients and people working at nursing facilities and mental institutions in the greater Seoul area.
The country earlier suffered a major uptick in virus cases in mid-August, mostly traced to a conservative church in northern Seoul. After reaching 103 on Aug. 13, the figure shot up to 441 on Aug. 27. The figures stayed in the triple digits until reaching 82 on Sept. 20.
Despite some ups and downs, the daily new infections mostly stayed around 100 afterwards.
Of the newly identified local infections, 54 cases were reported in the southern port city of Busan as more than 50 patients and workers at a nursing hospital in Busan were diagnosed with COVID-19.
A total of 42 patients and 11 staff members of the Busan nursing hospital tested positive for the new coronavirus, the authorities said.
Another patient died earlier in the day following the death of the first infected patient, they said.
The hospital, named Haeddeurak, was immediately put under cohort isolation, they said, adding that no additional cases have been reported since late Wednesday.
Another 22 cases were reported in Seoul, with six cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital and 11 cases in the western port city of Incheon, the KDCA said.
The number of cases linked to a hospital in Dobong Ward, northern Seoul, reached 65, with one more patient reported, the authorities said.
An additional four cases were linked to a funeral house in Seodaemun Ward, bringing the total caseload to 15, the KDCA said.
The number of cases linked to a family gathering in Songpa Ward, southeastern Seoul, reached 16 as the case was later confirmed to be linked to another family gathering in Gangwon Province, the authorities said.
The number of cases traced to a pub in Incheon rose by 12, bringing the total to 13, it said. Two more cases were reported from another family gathering in central Gyeonggi Province, bringing the total caseload to 25.
A total 130 people have been confirmed with the COVID-19 virus in connection with family gatherings during the Chuseok period over the past 11 days, the KDCA said.
The KDCA said the number of daily new imported cases reached 15, sharply down from 31 on Wednesday and 33 on Tuesday.
South Korea added one more death, raising the death toll to 439. The fatality rate reached 1.76 percent.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 82, down three from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 23,082, up 52 from the previous day.
Under eased social distancing, high-risk facilities, such as clubs, karaoke rooms, bars and buffet restaurants, including those in the greater Seoul area, are now allowed to operate normally. They are, however, obligated to follow infection prevention measures, including having visitors wear masks, and keep entry logs.
Starting Tuesday, people are required to wear protective masks on public transportation and at medical facilities and rallies. Violators can be fined starting in November after a month of grace period.
South Korea operates a three-tier social distancing system. Under the second level, indoor gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. The government has not yet issued the highest alert, which bans gatherings of 10 or more people.
Nationwide Level 2 social distancing went into effect from late August through Sunday, while the Seoul metropolitan area that houses around half of the nationwide population was also temporarily put under Level 2.5 over the period.
Health authorities have been warning that the country could become more vulnerable to another wave of pandemic over the winter.
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