SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases stayed below 1,000 for the second consecutive day on Wednesday amid signs of a slowdown, while nursing homes and churches continued to be hot spots for virus outbreaks despite extended virus curbs.
The country added 840 more COVID-19 cases, including 809 local infections, raising the total caseload to 65,818, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Wednesday's daily caseload rose from 715 on Tuesday but fell sharply from 1,020 on Monday when mass infections from a Seoul prison and nursing homes were reported. The average daily new cases stood at 863.9 and the reproduction rate stayed slightly below 1 over the past week.
Twenty people died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours to raise the death toll to 1,027.
Health authorities said the virus curve has been slowly flattening thanks to preemptive testing and social distancing rules, but they remained cautious over continued group infections and the possibility of a virus resurgence in the winter season and the spread of a new virus variant.
As the country has reported 12 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.
To cope with the largest-ever wave of the 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 measures 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.
Of the newly identified local infections, 263 cases were reported in Seoul and 269 cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported 35 more cases.
A total of 94 cases has been reported from a church in Yongin, 50 kilometers south of Seoul, and 199 cases were connected to a missionary group in Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
Several new cases across the nation were linked to a missionary church in Sangju, 270 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
In addition, senior homes and hospitals across the nation have reported additional cases.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 411 on Tuesday, compared with 386 from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 46,995, up 823 from the previous day.
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