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Virus tally exceeds 500 for 3rd day, authorities under pressure to toughen social distancing

People in Seoul wearing masks while riding the subway on Friday (Yonhap)
People in Seoul wearing masks while riding the subway on Friday (Yonhap)
The daily number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea exceeded 500 for the third straight day Saturday, as health authorities face growing pressure to toughen social distancing restrictions amid continued sporadic infections across the country.

The country added 504 more COVID-19 cases, including 486 local infections, raising the total caseload to 33,375, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. It reported six additional coronavirus fatalities, bringing the total to 522.

The daily infection tally has stayed in the triple digits since Nov. 8, with the figure hovering above 300 since Nov. 18 except for Monday. Amid deepening worries over the third infection wave, the government is expected to decide how to readjust social distancing curbs on Sunday.

The latest figure is down from 569 on Friday and 583 cases on Thursday when the daily tally spiked to an eight-month high.

Fears of transmission have further risen as over 493,400 students across the country are set to take the state-run college entrance exam on Thursday next week, with cluster infections at private gatherings, public facilities and the military complicating quarantine efforts.

The KDCA said that 176 new virus cases were reported from Seoul, while the daily tallies for Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, Busan and Incheon stood at 122, 33, 27 and 25, respectively.

Of the total 18 imported cases, eight were from the Americas and another eight from Asia excluding China.

The authorities have raised the social distancing level by one notch to Level 2, the third-highest in the country's five-tier system, in the Seoul metropolitan area, where the majority of virus cases have been identified, and began to apply enhanced measures from Tuesday.

Other municipalities have also been enforcing tougher distancing rules depending on their virus situation.

On Sunday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters plans to convene a session to discuss whether to raise the social distancing level for the Seoul metropolitan area and other provinces.

The move came as some medical experts warned that if the government does not employ more stringent measures to contain the pandemic, the daily virus count could soar to 1,000.

Quarantine officials, however, appear circumspect about rushing to toughen social distancing curbs, as the recently strengthened restrictions will take some time to show their effect.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 27,349, up 246 from the previous day. (Yonhap)

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