(ATTN: UPDATES with 9 p.m. case count in paras 7-8)
SEOUL, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported fewer than 1,500 daily cases Thursday, continuing a downward trend since the fourth wave of the pandemic peaked in late September, due to the accelerating rate of vaccinations.
The country reported 1,441 new cases, including 1,430 local infections, raising the total caseload to 347,529, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Thursday's tally is down by 130 from the 1,571 counted the previous day. It is also down by 498 from the number reported a week ago.
The death toll came to 2,709, up 11 from a day earlier.
Although the country has reported over 1,000 coronavirus cases a day since early July, the pandemic is believed to be relatively under control as the country has ramped up its vaccination efforts.
Daily new cases have remained under 2,000 for 13 consecutive days. The average daily number of confirmed cases during the Oct. 10-16 period was 1,562, down 20.3 percent from the previous week, according to KDCA data released Wednesday.
As of 9 p.m. Thursday, health authorities and local governments had reported 1,368 more COVID-19 cases, up 112 from the same time a day earlier.
Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 506 new cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding 526 and Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, 105 cases.
The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 317,755, up by 1,148 from the previous day, the KDCA said.
As of Thursday, 67.4 percent of the 52 million population were fully vaccinated, while 79 percent had received their first shots.
Health authorities expect the country to fully vaccinate over 70 percent of its population by the end of this month.
With accelerating inoculations, South Korea is slowly inching toward normality, like many other nations around the world.
Beginning this week, the restrictions on private gatherings have been lifted to allow up to eight people in Seoul and its surrounding areas to meet, provided that four of them are fully vaccinated. A maximum of 10 people, including six fully vaccinated, are allowed to gather in other regions.
The eased rules will be in effect until the end of this month in what the authorities said would be the last adjustment of social distancing as the country is set to introduce the "living with COVID-19" scheme.
The government has said that the scheme can be implemented when 70 percent of all South Koreans, including 80 percent of all adults, are fully vaccinated.
As part of the preparation, a public hearing on the scheme is slated for next Monday with medical and infectious disease experts sharing notes on the gradual plan to live with the coronavirus.
A debate session is also scheduled to take place Friday ahead of the planned hearing, according to the health authorities.
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