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(LEAD) New virus cases at 15-day high as extended Lunar New Year holiday kicks off

All News 10:41 February 11, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with details throughout; CHANGES photo at bottom)

SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily virus cases bounced back above 500 Thursday, putting authorities on heightened alert over a potential surge in infections during the extended Lunar New Year holiday.

The country added 504 more COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, including 467 local infections, raising the total caseload to 82,434, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

It marks the biggest daily tally since Jan. 27 when the figure was 559.

The Thursday tally also marks a jump from 444 cases registered on Wednesday, 303 cases on Tuesday as well as Monday's 289 cases, which was the lowest daily tally since Nov. 23 last year.

Travelers have their body temperatures measured at a train station in Seoul's Yongsan Ward on Feb. 20, 2021, one day before the Lunar New Year holiday begins. (Yonhap)

South Korea added 10 more deaths, raising the total to 1,496. The fatality rate of COVID-19 here stood at 1.81 percent.

Since late last month, the daily caseload has been moving in the 300-400 range due to continuing cluster infections from unauthorized religious education facilities in the central and southwestern regions.

New virus infections have been slowing down since the third wave of the pandemic peaked at an all-time high of 1,241 daily cases on Dec. 25.

Health authorities remain on heightened alert as the extended Lunar New Year holiday kicked off Thursday for a four-day run including the weekend.

Many Koreans travel across the country to visit their relatives and families during the traditional holiday.

To fend off a potential flare-up during the holiday when travel and gatherings increase, authorities have kept in place tight social distancing requirements throughout the holiday, including a nationwide ban on gatherings of five or more people.

The government has also taken precautionary measures to discourage the Lunar New Year migration, permitting sales of only window seats on trains and withholding its annual exemption of toll fees on highways during the holiday.

Health authorities plan to announce whether they will lower the current virus curbs, the second-highest in the five-tier scheme, over the weekend, after gauging the trajectory of the pandemic during the holiday.

The domestic flight terminal of Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul is crowded with travelers on Feb. 10, 2021, a day before the Lunar New Year holiday kicks off. (Yonhap)

Of the newly identified local infections, 177 cases were reported in Seoul and 181 cases in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, reported 25 more cases. The three regions, representing around half of the nation's population, alone were responsible for 82 percent of the total infections reported Thursday.

Outside the capital area, the biggest port city of Busan along the southern coast added 29 more cases.

Of the 37 imported cases, 14 were from the United States, seven from Indonesia and four from Hungary, according to KDCA.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 170, down 14 from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was up 412 from the previous day to reach 72,638.

People line up in front of a temporary COVID-19 test center at Seoul Station on Feb. 10, 2021. (Yonhap)


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