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New cases fall back sharply to 715 amid extended tighter virus curbs

National 09:32 January 05, 2021

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases fell back sharply to slightly over 700 on Tuesday as the country extended tougher social distancing guidelines and stepped up monitoring of nursing homes and other virus-prone facilities.

The country added 715 more COVID-19 cases, including 672 local infections, raising the total caseload to 64,979, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Tuesday's daily caseload marks a sharp fall from 1,020 on Monday and is below the average daily number of new cases, which stood at 894 over the past week.

Twenty-six people died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours to raise the death toll to 1,007, surpassing the threshold nearly a year after the nation reported its first confirmed virus case on Jan. 20, 2020.

The lobby of a high-end hotel in Seoul is empty on Jan. 4, 2021, amid tough social distancing guidelines for COVID-19. (Yonhap)

To cope with the largest-ever pandemic, health authorities have extended the Level 2.5 distancing measures -- the second highest in the five-tier scheme -- for the greater Seoul area and Level 2 for the rest of the country until Jan. 17.

Private gatherings of more than four people are also banned across the nation during the designated period.

Despite the still high number of new cases, authorities said the third wave of the pandemic is within a manageable level, citing the daily average of new cases, group infections and the reproduction rate.

As the country has reported 10 cases of a more transmissible coronavirus variant first reported in Britain, South Korea has been tightening restrictions on the entry of foreigners.

Starting Friday, foreigners arriving at South Korean airports must present a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours before their departure to the nation, the KDCA said.

KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said Monday that the "silent spread" of the virus, group infections at high-risk facilities and the new COVID-19 variant will decide the fate of the third wave.

A medical worker walks in a hospital in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Jan. 4, 2020, which reported 48 COVID-19 cases. (Yonhap)

Of the newly identified local infections, 193 cases were reported in Seoul and 214 cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported 48 more cases.

A fifth round of COVID-19 testing at a prison in eastern Seoul has discovered new cases, raising the total to 1,090.

An additional 49 cases were linked to a hospital in Incheon, 80 kilometers west of Seoul, and 68 new cases were found in another hospital in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul.

Dozens of new cases were also identified from activities in several churches in the Seoul metropolitan area.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 386 Monday, compared with 351 from the previous day.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 46,172, up 932 from the previous day.


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