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(LEAD) New virus cases under 400 again; alert in place against potential upticks

Health 11:39 January 22, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 7, 11, 13, 18, 2nd photo; CHANGES 1st photo)

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases fell back below 400 Friday on the back of tougher virus curbs, but health authorities warned against complacency as they try to further slow down new infections.

The country added 346 more COVID-19 cases, including 314 domestically transmitted infections, raising the total caseload to 74,262, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Friday's daily caseload was sharply down from 401 cases reported the previous day.

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 stayed in the 500s last week before it dropped to 389 on Monday and 386 on Tuesday. It hovered slightly above 400 on Wednesday and Thursday.

Although new infections appear to be slowing down, health authorities have been urging people to follow enhanced social distancing rules against possible upticks.

"It's positive that we are seeing a downward trend, but given the pace of decrease, asymptomatic transmission and virus variants, we are not in a safe situation," said Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official said.

Citizens enter a makeshift virus testing clinic in Seoul on Jan. 22, 2021. (Yonhap)

The country extended its tougher social distancing measures for two more weeks until Jan. 31, while easing some restrictions on cafes, gyms and other indoor facilities that have suffered revenue losses.

Under the measures, the capital area is under Level 2.5, the second highest in a five-tier system, and the rest of the nation remains under Level 2.

The ban on private gatherings of five or more people, and the restriction on business operations after 9 p.m., has also been extended. But indoor gyms, cram schools and karaoke establishments are allowed to reopen on the condition that they strictly adhere to antivirus measures.

"We need very careful approach when it comes to easing restrictions," Yoon said. "We have started discussion of revamping social distancing measures that can keep up the effectiveness of virus prevention as well as social acceptance."

Of the 314 locally transmitted cases, Seoul accounted for 113 cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province took up 102. Incheon, west of Seoul, had eight new cases. The greater Seoul area accounts for around half of the nation's 51 million population.

Health authorities said they will conduct special inspections on 14 correctional facilities nationwide by Feb. 14 following a massive virus outbreak at a prison. Dongbu Detention Center in southeastern Seoul has so far reported more than 1,200 cases.

A health worker clad in a protective suit collects a sample from a citizen at a makeshift virus testing clinic in Seoul on Jan. 22, 2021. (Yonhap)

There were 32 cases from overseas, raising the total number of imported cases to 6,062.

Of the newly imported cases, 17 were from the United States, followed by Egypt with five.

The country added 12 fatalities, upping the virus death toll to 1,328. The fatality rate was 1.79 percent.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 299, down 18 from a day earlier. This is the first time since Dec. 28 that the number of critically ill virus patients fell below 300.

Health authorities said there are enough hospital beds to accommodate virus patients, with around 15,000 beds currently available nationwide, including 387 reserved for seriously-ill COVID-19 patients.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 61,415, up 569 from a day earlier, with 11,519 people being isolated for COVID-19 treatment, down 235 from a day ago.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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