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(2nd LD) New virus cases still rising 1 day before mass vaccine rollout

National 11:48 February 25, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 12-13; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases fell slightly below 400 on Thursday, a day ahead of the country's first rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, as sporadic cluster infections continued to pop up across the country.

The country reported 396 more virus cases, including 369 local infections, raising the total caseload to 88,516, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Thursday's daily caseload marks a slight drop from 440 posted the previous day. The figures hovered above 600 last week before falling below 500 over the weekend and under 400 earlier this week on fewer tests.

The country added five more deaths, raising the total to 1,581. The fatality rate was 1.79 percent.

A military official guards a truck carrying AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in Seoul on Feb. 25, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

The country's first vaccine program will start on Friday with AstraZeneca's vaccine for 785,000 medical workers and those who under the age of 65 at nursing homes. The vaccines were manufactured locally by South Korean drugmaker SK Bioscience Co. under a partnership deal.

Starting Saturday, Pfizer's vaccines will be offered to medical staff members. South Korea hopes to attain herd immunity by November.

Despite the vaccine program, South Korea may opt to extend its current social distancing guidelines, the third highest in the five-tier virus curbs.

The greater Seoul area, home to around half of the nation's 52-million population, currently is under Level 2 distancing, which is a notch lower than the previous Level 2.5.

Under the new guidelines, set to run through Sunday, restaurants and bars in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province are allowed to remain open for an hour longer until 10 p.m.

Bans on gatherings of five or more people, however, are in place nationwide. Health authorities are set to decide whether to extend or lower the current measures.

But the current virus situation is not improving given asymptomatic patients who could have spread the virus over the Lunar New Year's holiday, which ran from Feb. 11 to 13, and the spread of more contagious COVID-19 variants.

South Korea, meanwhile, also plans to announce an outline on how to revamp the current five-tier social distancing scheme next week and gather the public's opinion before a full implementation.

The revised guideline is said to include streamlining the five-tier alert system into three tiers, along with minimizing restrictions on shops.

Trucks carrying AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine leave a logistics center in Icheon, south of Seoul, on Feb. 25, 2021. (Yonhap)

Of the 369 locally transmitted cases, 114 cases were reported in Seoul and 132 in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Incheon, which lies west of the capital city, added 22 more cases.

Gwangju, located 330 kilometers south of Seoul, reported 15 more patients, and the southeastern port city of Busan identified 18 more.

The southern resort island of Jeju had five new patients.

A hospital in central Seoul has seen 231 cases so far, and a private gathering in the capital city also identified 81 patients. A total of 184 patients were traced to a plastic production factory in Namyangju, north of Seoul.

The country also reported 27 more imported cases, raising the number of such cases to 6,990.

The United States accounted for six, and the Philippines took up five. Patients from the United Arab Emirates also came to three.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients was 144, up four from the previous day.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 79,487, up 437 from a day earlier. Around 89.8 percent of the patients reported here were cured.

South Korea has been carrying out 6,551,214 COVID-19 tests, including 40,226 from the previous day.

A military vehicle is parked near a makeshift COVID-19 center in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 25, 2021. (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr
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