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(5th LD) New cases back under 600 again, vaccinations to rev up

All News 21:52 May 23, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS latest figures in paras 5-6)

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases fell below 600 again on Sunday due to fewer tests over the weekend amid increased sporadic cluster infections, as the country's vaccination scheme is set to gather pace again.

The country reported 585 more COVID-19 cases, including 570 local infections, raising the total caseload to 135,929, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

South Korea reported 666 cases on Saturday and 561 on Friday.

There were five additional virus deaths, raising the total to 1,931. The fatality rate came to 1.42 percent.

As of 9 p.m., 480 new cases have been reported across the country, down 72 from the same time period a day earlier, according to health authorities and local governments. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

Given that fewer tests are conducted over weekends, it is hard to say that the latest figures suggest a downward trend of infections, experts said.

With the country's daily new cases showing no signs of letup since early May, South Korea decided to extend the current level of its social distancing scheme by three more weeks through June 13.

Medical workers carry out COVID-19 tests at a makeshift clinic in central Seoul on May 23, 2021. (Yonhap)

Currently, the greater Seoul area, home to more than half of the country's 52 million people, is under Level 2 social distancing, the third highest in the five-tier scheme, while the rest of the country is mostly subject to Level 1.5 distancing.

Gatherings of five or more people are banned nationwide.

Health authorities have been grappling with chains of cluster infections nationwide and more transmissible variant strains of COVID-19.

The country has reported more than 1,000 cases of variant COVID-19 strains from Britain, South Africa, Brazil and India, with southern cities, such as Ulsan, reporting the most variant cases.

The country's reproduction rate reached 1.04, indicating that a COVID-19 patient is transmitting the virus to at least one person. It marked the first time for the figure to hover above one since mid-April.

"There are various sporadic cluster infections from different locations, with patients outside the greater Seoul area taking up 40 percent of total cases," Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said.

The average daily cases also stayed above 600 for the second consecutive week.

South Korea also has been lagging behind global peers in terms of vaccine inoculation programs but is set to speed up the campaign with eased vaccine supply woes.

As of Saturday, 1.74 million people, or 3.4 percent of the country's population, have been fully vaccinated. The country launched its inoculation program on Feb. 26.

This photo taken on May 23, 2021, shows Samsung BioLogics' headquarters located in Songdo, west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

A total of 3.79 million people, or 7.4 percent, have received their first shots, up just 4,933 from a day earlier. AstraZeneca's vaccine has been given to 2 million people, while 1.73 million have received that of Pfizer.

South Korea currently has 3.3 million doses of vaccines in stock.

To speed up the vaccination program, authorities plan to provide incentives to those who have received jabs, with more details set to be unveiled later this week.

Under the country's vaccination blueprint, South Korea aims to inoculate 13 million people by the end of June and achieve herd immunity by November.

On Saturday (U.S. time), Samsung Biologics, a South Korean biopharmaceutical firm, signed a deal to bottle Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine at its local factory.

The Moderna vaccine won its final nod from South Korea's drug safety agency last week, becoming the fourth COVID-19 vaccine to be approved here, along with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine.

The deal centers on having Samsung BioLogics carry out fill-and-finish, labeling and packaging services before the distribution of the vaccines.

Authorities said they will continue to carry out negotiations to have Moderna vaccines manufactured here be distributed locally as well.

South Korea, meanwhile, said it will also cooperate with the U.S. to set detailed schedules for the supply of vaccines donated by Washington.

U.S. President Joe Biden said his country will provide full COVID-19 vaccinations for all 550,000 South Korean troops.

Of the locally transmitted cases, 180 came from Seoul, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province accounted for 150.

The southeastern cities of Daegu and Ulsan added 57 and 23 cases, respectively.

Children wearing waterproof masks play at an outdoor swimming pool in Yongin, south of Seoul, on May 23, 2021. (Yonhap)

A high school in Gangwon Province added 13 more patients, raising the total caseload to 14.

A shipyard in Mokpo, 410 kilometers south of Seoul, added four more cases, with the total reaching five.

Over the past two weeks, around 26.5 percent of new patients had unknown transmission routes.

Imported cases came to 15, raising the total to 8,883.

India and the United States accounted for three cases each.

The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 149, down one from the previous day.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 125,881, up 849 from a day earlier.

South Korea has carried out 9,536,299 COVID-19 tests so far, including 15,333 from the previous day.

colin@yna.co.kr
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