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SEOUL, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported a spike in daily coronavirus cases Wednesday as clusters of infections continued to emerge, with health authorities urging people to avoid family gatherings during the Lunar New Year holiday.
The country added 444 more COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, including 414 local infections, raising the total caseload to 81,930, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The figure was the highest since Feb. 4, when the nation recorded 451 new cases. It also marked a jump from Tuesday's 371 new cases and Monday's 289 new cases, which were the lowest daily infections since Nov. 23 last year.
South Korea added four more deaths, raising the total to 1,486.
Since late last month, the daily caseload has been moving in the 300-400 range due to cluster infections from unauthorized education facilities run by a Christian missionary group in the central and southwestern regions.
New virus infections have been slowing down since the third wave of the pandemic peaked at a record high of 1,241 daily cases on Dec. 25.
Health authorities are on high alert ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday that runs from Thursday to Saturday. Millions of South Koreans normally travel across the country to visit their relatives and families.
To contain the spread of the virus, social distancing guidelines, including the ban on gatherings of five or more people, will be maintained through next Sunday.
Health authorities plan to announce whether to lower the current virus curbs, the second-highest in the five-tier scheme, over the weekend.
South Korea will start vaccinating its population against COVID-19 on Feb. 26 if final approval for the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine for elderly people is made this week, health authorities said.
South Korea has so far identified 80 cases of COVID-19 variants, known to be much more contagious.
Of the newly identified local infections, 169 cases were reported in Seoul and 157 cases in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, reported 18 more cases. The three regions represent around half of the nation's population.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 184, down five from a day earlier.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was up 550 from the previous day to reach 72,226.
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