(ATTN: UPDATES with more details and hospital bed shortage woes in paras 3-6; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily coronavirus cases dropped below 3,000 on Sunday amid spiraling woes over the wide spread of the virus across the country due to the variants and the mass migration during the Chuseok holiday.
The country reported 2,771 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,735 local infections, bringing the total caseload to 301,172, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The daily caseload fell under 3,000 apparently due to fewer tests over the weekend after peaking at 3,272 on Saturday. Still, the figure 2,771 is the second largest since the outbreak of COVID-19 in January last year in the country.
There are fears the virus could spread further nationwide due to the more transmissible delta variant and millions of South Koreans returning home after Chuseok, the Korean autumn harvest celebration, which ran from Monday to Wednesday. Daily cases have stayed over 1,000 for the last 82 days although the country implemented tough virus curbs to slow down the nationwide spread.
The spike in new cases triggered health authorities' jitters over a possible shortage of hospital beds for treating seriously ill virus patients.
As of 5 p.m. on Saturday, 477 beds have been used for the treatment of the virus patients, taking up 48.9 percent of the overall 976 beds across the country.
The country added nine more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 2,450.
The greater Seoul area, the hotbed of South Korea's latest wave of the pandemic, has been under Level 4 distancing measures, the highest in the country's four-tier system, since July with most other areas being under Level 3.
Private gatherings are allowed to be a maximum of six on the condition that four of them are fully vaccinated.
Health authorities are weighing whether to further tighten social distancing rules, tracing the recent virus trends.
The Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the nation's 52 million population, accounted for 72.7 percent of the total infections.
Seoul reported 923 cases and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province 922 cases, with the western port city of Incheon adding 169 cases.
A total of 38 million people, or 74.1 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 23.2 million people, or 45.2 percent, have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.
Under a goal to achieve herd immunity by November, the government plans to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant women, and people aged between 12 and 17 next month.
Imported cases came to 36, including seven from the Philippines.
The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 320, down nine from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 268,140, up 1,726 from a day earlier.
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