(ATTN: ADDS more info in 5th para)
SEOUL, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases fell below 1,500 on Sunday amid signs of a letup in the fourth wave of the pandemic, with the country seeking to phase out social distancing restrictions, as its vaccination rate reached the milestone of 70 percent.
The country reported 1,423 new cases, including 1,395 local infections, raising the total caseload to 351,899, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Sunday's tally is down from the 1,508 counted the previous day. New virus cases stayed below 2,000 for the 16th day in a row.
The death toll came to 2,766, up 21 from a day earlier. The fatality rate reached 0.79 percent.
As of 6 p.m., health authorities and local governments had reported 957 more COVID-19 cases, down 174 from the same time a day earlier. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
Daily virus caseloads tend to fluctuate depending on the number of coronavirus tests, which generally decrease during weekends and holidays.
Although South Korea has logged more than 1,000 daily cases since early July, it is seeing a downward trend after reaching the peak of 3,272 cases on Sept. 25.
The ceiling on private gatherings has been raised to allow up to eight people to meet in Seoul and its surrounding areas starting Monday, 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 government is also seeking to introduce the "living with COVID-19" scheme in early November, as more than 70 percent of all South Koreans have been fully vaccinated.
Under the policy, COVID-19 will be treated as an infectious respiratory disease, like seasonal influenza, with eased social distancing being implemented.
The KDCA said 40 million people, or 79.4 percent of the population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines since February when South Korea began its inoculation campaign.
The number of fully vaccinated people reached 35.9 million, or 70.1 percent.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 316, down 11 from the previous day.
Over the past two weeks, 35.7 percent of newly added cases had unknown transmission routes. Cluster infections accounted for 13.4 percent.
Of the locally transmitted cases, 514 were from Seoul, 516 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 99 from the western port city of Incheon.
The southeastern port city of Busan reported 32 additional cases, and its neighboring South Gyeongsang Province added 26 cases. South Chungcheong Province reported 62 new infections.
Major cluster infections included a nursing home in western Seoul, which has reported 29 patients so far. A day care center in South Gyeongsang province identified 20 cases, including nine children.
South Korea's military, meanwhile, reported six additional COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the total caseload among its personnel to 2,004. Three Army officers, two draftees and a civilian worker tested positive for the virus.
Imported cases, which include South Korean nationals, came to 28.
Arrivals from the United States and Russia accounted for five each. There were also patients among arrivals from Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 323,393, up 857 from the previous day. This indicates that nearly 92 percent of virus patients reported here have been fully cured.
South Korea has carried out 15,504,985 COVID-19 tests so far, including 23,512 the previous day.
(URGENT) BTS wins top honor at AMAs for 1st time as Asian act
(News Focus) How Kim Jong-un, once a young political novice, cemented power in N. Korea in 10 years
(News Focus) S. Korean chipmakers face balancing act between U.S., China for market supremacy
(4th LD) Former President Chun Doo-hwan dies at 90
(LEAD) BTS becomes first Asian act to win top honor at AMAs
Military stresses need for 'prudence' in exempting BTS from active-duty military service
Russia pulls out majority of embassy personnel in N. Korea: official
Life sentence commuted to 35-yr term for adoptive mother convicted of murder by child abuse
(LEAD) Daily cases stay below 4,000, critical cases hit record high
'Mogadishu' wins best picture at Blue Dragon Awards