(ATTN: ADDS info related to confirmed cases in paras 5-8, photo)
SEOUL, Nov. 28 (Yonhap) -- The daily number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea exceeded 500 for the third straight day Saturday, as health authorities face growing pressure to toughen social distancing restrictions amid continued sporadic infections across the country.
The country added 504 more COVID-19 cases, including 486 local infections, raising the total caseload to 33,375, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). It reported six additional coronavirus fatalities, bringing the total to 522.
The daily infection tally has stayed in the triple digits since Nov. 8, with the figure hovering above 300 since Nov. 18 except for Monday. Amid deepening worries over the third infection wave, the government is expected to decide how to readjust social distancing curbs on Sunday.
The latest figure is down from 569 on Friday and 583 cases on Thursday when the daily tally spiked to an eight-month high.
The number of new virus cases is forecast to be slightly down on Sunday compared with the three preceding days as it tends to drop on weekends as fewer people get tested.
As of 6 p.m. on Saturday, 336 confirmed cases had been reported across the country, according to health authorities and local governments.
Of them, 210 cases were reported in greater Seoul, with 126 reported in other areas. No confirmed cases were reported in Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul and in the largest southern island of Jeju.
The total number of the confirmed cases was down 47 from the same time on the previous day.
Fears of transmission have further risen as over 493,400 students across the country are set to take the state-run college entrance exam on Thursday next week, with cluster infections at private gatherings, public facilities and the military complicating quarantine efforts.
Encouraging those preparing for next week's exam, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun vowed to beef up quarantine efforts.
"You are almost there. To ensure your earnest efforts will not go in vain, we will focus all government capabilities on quarantine efforts," he wrote in a Facebook post.
Cluster infections, including one in an Army unit, continued to hamper the anti-virus campaign.
Sixteen soldiers undergoing training or stationed at the Sangmudae Artillery School in Jangseong, 310 kilometers south of Seoul, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday after an Army officer from the same compound was confirmed to have contracted the virus the previous day.
The number of virus cases traced to a dance class in western Seoul increased by 26 to 155, while the figure for infections linked to a small gathering based on an online app rose by 21 to 22.
The numbers of infections tied to two public sauna facilities in Seoul's Seocho and Songpa districts climbed to 63 and 14, respectively, while cases linked to a religious service in Seoul's Mapo district swelled to 135.
The figure for cases traced to a military unit in the border county of Yeoncheon rose to 71.
The number of cases related to a Korean traditional drum class in Busan and Ulsan increased by two to total 91.
The KDCA said in its latest tally that 176 new virus cases were reported from Seoul, while the daily tallies for Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, Busan and Incheon stood at 122, 33, 27 and 25, respectively.
Of the total 18 imported cases, eight were from the Americas and another eight from Asia excluding China.
The authorities have raised the social distancing level by one notch to Level 2, the third-highest in the country's five-tier system, in the Seoul metropolitan area, where the majority of virus cases have been identified, and began to apply enhanced measures from Tuesday.
Other municipalities have also been enforcing tougher distancing rules depending on their virus situation.
On Sunday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters plans to convene a session to discuss whether to raise the social distancing level for the Seoul metropolitan area and other provinces.
The move came as some medical experts warned that if the government does not employ more stringent measures to contain the pandemic, the daily virus count could soar to 1,000.
Experts said that the latest wave of infections is different from previous ones that started in limited, largely traceable spots as the current one entails sporadic transmissions in various zones across the country.
Some quarantine officials, however, appeared circumspect about rushing to toughen social distancing curbs, as the recently strengthened restrictions will take some time to show their effect.
The weekly average of the daily virus counts from Sunday to Saturday stood at 424.6. Excluding imported cases, the local average is at 400.1, slightly higher than the minimum 400 mark required to raise social distancing to Level 2.5.
Under Level 2.5, the authorities are to roll out tougher measures such as limiting the number of people attending wedding or funeral events to less than 50 and banning PC cafes, theaters and other facilities from operating after 9 p.m.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 27,349, up 246 from the previous day.
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