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(LEAD) New virus cases at almost 2-month low on fewer tests, infections slowdown

All News 12:02 January 18, 2021

(ATTN: CHANGES 1st photo; ADDS more info in last 4 paras, 2nd photo)

SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases rose by the smallest number in nearly two months Monday, apparently on the back of tightened social distancing measures and fewer tests over the weekend, but health authorities remain vigilant over potential upticks.

The country added 389 more COVID-19 cases, including 366 local infections, raising the total caseload to 72,729, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Monday's daily figure marked a sharp fall from 520 posted a day earlier and is the smallest daily caseload since Nov. 25.

The third wave of COVID-19 here reached its peak on Dec. 25, with the daily tally reaching 1,240, but has been showing signs of a slowdown since. The daily figure has been staying in the 500s for the past six days.

People wait in line to receive virus tests at a makeshift COVID-19 testing facility in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, on Jan. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

Amid signs of a letup in new virus cases, health authorities decided to ease tough restrictions on previously shuttered or scaled back businesses that have suffered revenue losses.

The government announced Saturday it will extend its current social distancing level for another two weeks from Monday, though it eased some restrictions on cafes, gyms and other indoor facilities.

Under the new measures, the capital area will continue to enforce Level 2.5, the second highest in a five-tier system, and the rest of the nation will remain under Level 2.

The ban on private gatherings of five or more people, and the restriction on business operations after 9 p.m., will also be extended.

However, indoor gyms, cram schools and karaoke establishments will be allowed to reopen on the condition that they strictly adhere to antivirus measures, including a maximum capacity of one person per 8 square meters and a closing time of 9 p.m.

The country designated Feb. 1-14 as a special antivirus period for the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 12 this year.

Of the locally transmitted cases, the capital city of Seoul accounted for 128 cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province took up 103. Incheon, west of Seoul, had 13 new cases. The greater Seoul area accounts for around half of the nation's 51 million population.

A health worker collects a sample from a citizen at a makeshift COVID-19 testing facility amid snowfall in Seoul on Jan. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

There were 23 cases from overseas, up three from a day ago, raising the total number of imported cases to 5,945.

Of the new imported cases, six were from the United States, followed by three from Indonesia.

The country reported 15 more fatalities, raising the virus death toll total to 1,264, according to the authorities. The fatality rate was 1.74 percent.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 343, down nine from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 58,723, up 470 from a day earlier, with 12,742 people isolated for COVID-19 treatment, down 96 from a day ago.


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