SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported more than 700 new virus cases for the second straight day on Thursday amid lingering woes over another wave of the pandemic as the country's vaccination campaign gathers pace, with vaccinations set to top 2 million.
The country identified 735 more COVID-19 cases, including 715 local infections, raising the total caseload to 116,661, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The figure was the highest since Jan. 7 when the country reported 869 cases.
It was also the second straight day that the daily caseload hovered above 700 following 731 cases on Wednesday. The daily tally stayed in the 500s on Monday and Tuesday.
The average daily number of cases stayed well above 600 in the past week on rising cluster infections across the nation. The country added two more deaths, raising the death toll to 1,808. The fatality rate was 1.55 percent.
Despite the steady upticks, South Korea decided to maintain the current level of social distancing rules through May 2 to contain the virus, although it placed more restrictions on entertainment establishments, such as nightclubs and bars.
The greater Seoul area, home to half of the nation's 52 million population, is under the Level 2 distancing scheme, the third highest in the five-phase system. The rest of the country is under Level 1.5, except for some municipalities that have adopted Level 2 measures.
Private gatherings of five or more people are banned nationwide.
Health authorities are struggling to secure more vaccines while ratcheting up the nationwide inoculation drive.
They aim to inoculate 3 million people by the end of this month and 12 million by the end of June. By November, the country hopes to create herd immunity.
South Korea has said that it has secured vaccines for 79 million people from the World Health Organization's global vaccine COVAX Facility project and pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen and Novavax.
The government said earlier it is seeking a "vaccine swap" agreement with the United States, but such a deal may not happen at least for the time being after a U.S. State Department spokesman said his country is currently focused on vaccinating Americans.
On Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in ordered his aides to review the possibility of introducing Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.
Of the newly confirmed locally transmitted cases, 457 cases came from the capital area, with 229 from Seoul, 217 from Gyeonggi Province and 11 from Incheon, 40 kilometers west of the capital.
The southern port city of Busan, the country's second-largest city, reported 35 more cases.
There were 20 additional imported cases, down 19 from a day earlier. The country's total number of imported cases is now at 8,081.
Health authorities are keeping especially close tabs on COVID-19 variants from overseas that are believed to be more contagious.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients was 125, up nine from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 106,459 up 582 from a day earlier, with 8,394 people being isolated for COVID-19 treatment, up 151 from a day ago.
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