SEOUL, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases dropped to a five-day low on Friday on a slowdown in large-scale cluster infections, while authorities are tightening grips on foreign arrivals to block the inflow of a more transmissible virus variant.
The country added 674 more COVID-19 cases, including 633 local infections, raising the total caseload to 67,360, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Friday's caseload was the lowest since Jan. 2, when the figure stood at 657 due largely to less testing over the New Year's holiday. The daily caseload hovered below 1,000 for the fourth consecutive day.
Thirty-five people died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours to raise the death toll to 1,081.
Despite the slowing pace of the virus surge helped by preemptive testing and stringent distancing rules, authorities remained vigilant over continued group infections in care centers and churches and the spread of a new virus variant first reported in Britain.
The country has registered 15 cases of the new COVID-19 strain first reported in Britain, including one case from South Africa, which prompted an extension of a ban on flights from Britain until Jan. 21.
Starting Friday, foreigners arriving at South Korean airports must present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure to the nation. The requirement will take effect on Jan. 15.
As pandemic fatigue grows among people and small business owners, authorities eased some restrictions on indoor sports facilities that have been ordered to shut down to allow them operate with a cap of nine people at a time starting from Friday.
Level 2.5 distancing measures -- the second highest in the country's five-tier scheme -- have been in place in the greater Seoul area, with Level 2 measures for the rest of the country, since Dec. 8 and will remain in effect until Jan. 17.
Private gatherings of more than four people are banned across the nation during the designated period.
High-risk entertainment venues, including bars, clubs and karaoke establishments, in the Seoul metropolitan area will be allowed to conditionally open when the current Level 2.5 measures expire on Jan. 17, the KDCA said.
Of the newly identified local infections, 186 cases were reported in Seoul and 236 cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported 30 more cases.
A prison in eastern Seoul has reported a total of 1,173 patients since the first confirmed case on Nov. 27, becoming the second-largest source of infections following a church in the southeastern city of Daegu linked to over 5,000 cases.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 404 on Friday, compared with 400 from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 48,369, up 720 from the previous day.
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