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SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases rose by triple digits for a third day Tuesday due to a series of cluster infections, prompting health authorities to consider raising the level of social distancing measures.
The country added 100 more COVID-19 cases, including 71 local infections, raising the total caseload to 27,653, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The figure marked a slight drop from 126 cases added on Monday and 143 from Sunday.
The country, which had been operating a three-tier social distancing scheme since the early stage of the pandemic, adopted the Level 1 social distancing on Saturday, the lowest on a revised five-tier scheme.
The new anti-virus curbs can be applied by each provincial government based on the degree of virus outbreaks, allowing people to carry on with their ordinary lives while wearing masks.
But health authorities are concerned that they may have no choice but to adopt the Level 1.5 scheme nationwide if the daily virus curve does not flatten soon. The higher social distancing level has been already in place in Asan and Cheonan, both located in central South Chungcheong Province.
"The country may revise up the social distancing scheme to Level 1.5 after two or three weeks, should the current trend continue," Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official, told reporters.
"While the daily number of new patients in the greater Seoul area currently hovers around 70, it is relatively smaller in other regions," Sohn added.
South Korea, which experienced major cluster infections from churches and a massive anti-government rally that led to hundreds of virus cases, is struggling to curb local transmissions tied to private gatherings and nursing homes.
Over the past two weeks, around 35.7 percent of the newly added cases have been group infections, with some 13.6 percent not having clear transmission routes.
"Currently, the virus is spreading at a faster pace despite efforts to track the infection routes," Sohn said. "We are experiencing more sporadic small-sized cluster infections rather than major group cases."
Among the locally-transmitted cases, the capital city of Seoul accounted for 32 cases, followed by Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul with 18. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported three new cases.
Gwangju, located 330 kilometers south of Seoul, and South Chungcheong Province both saw four additional infections. South Jeolla Province and South Gyeongsang Province added two cases each.
The reproduction rate is currently estimated at 1.07 nationwide, although the figure hovers below one for the greater Seoul area. The rate reflects the number of people that a single patient can infect.
An insurance firm in western Seoul added two more infections as of Tuesday noon, raising the tally to 36.
Two more cases were traced to a sauna in southern Seoul, with a total of 46 infections being traced to the facility.
A cram school from Gapyeong, east of Seoul, identified 11 more patients, raising the total to 12.
Cases from a group of medical facilities and senior homes in Gunpo, south of Seoul, came to 131, up 21 from the previous day.
South Korea, meanwhile, plans to fines people who do not wear protective masks in public places starting Friday.
"As we can become more vulnerable to the virus infection over winter, it is important that people wear masks indoors," Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Central Disease Control Headquarters, said in a press briefing.
"Although the current level of infections is within a manageable level for South Korea's medical infrastructure, the numbers can shoot up at anytime, considering the virus can still spread via asymptomatic patients," Kwon said.
The country added 29 imported cases.
The United States accounted for a whopping 16 cases, followed by Poland with three. There were also cases imported from the Philippines, Uzbekistan, India, Jordan, and France.
Health authorities said while the official number of COVID-19 cases around the globe has breached the 50-million threshold, the actual number may hover above 100 million considering asymptomatic and unreported cases.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 54, down three from Monday.
South Korea reported five additional deaths, raising the total to 485.
The fatality rate was 1.75 percent.
The number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 25,160, up 131 from the previous day. Around 91 percent of the patients reported here have been cured.
South Korea has carried out 2,723,960 COVID-19 tests, including 14,761 the previous day.
Seoul's health authorities said it is "encouraging" that U.S. pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. has made a breakthrough in developing a vaccine against the virus
Pfizer said in its press release that its vaccine candidate was "found to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19."
"We need to stay prudent and closely monitor situations in other countries before adopting vaccines," Kwon said.
South Korea said it is currently reaching out to potential vaccine producers that have carried out phase-three clinical trials, without providing further details.
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