(ATTN: UPDATES with latest tally in para 6; REPLACES photo)
SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new COVID-19 cases stayed in the 20,000s for the second consecutive day Wednesday, down nearly 7,400 cases from a week ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic is in retreat.
The country added 23,956 new infections, including 21 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 18,017,923, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The daily tally fell to a 16-week low for a Wednesday and declined 23.5 percent from a week earlier, in an apparent sign of the pandemic slowing down.
South Korea's daily caseload peaked at over 621,000 on March 17, driven by the rapid spread of the omicron variant nationwide.
The country added 23 deaths from COVID-19, taking the total to 24,029. The fatality rate stood at 0.13 percent. The number of critically ill patients stood at 237, the KDCA said.
Health authorities and local governments had reported 18,275 new cases as of 9 p.m., down 5,681 from the same time the previous day. It marked the lowest total at that time for any Wednesday in 16 weeks. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
South Korea started this week to allow international travelers to submit supervised rapid antigen test results, issued within 24 hours prior to their departure date, alongside PCR test results.
Amid decreasing COVID-19 cases, South Korea rolled back most of its virus restrictions last month, except for the seven-day self-isolation for COVID-19 patients. The mandate remains in effect until June 20.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul accounted for 3,586 cases, with its surrounding Gyeonggi Province reporting 5,258 cases. There were also 998 additional patients from Incheon, 40 kilometers west of the capital city.
As of midnight Tuesday, 44.57 million, or 86.9 percent of the population, had completed the full two-dose vaccinations, and 33.27 million, representing 64.8 percent, had received their first booster shots. More than 3.89 million people had gotten their second booster shots, the KDCA said.
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