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S. Korea past the peak of 3rd COVID-19 wave: officials

People register for COVID-19 diagnostic tests at the Incheon International Airport on Friday. (Yonhap)
People register for COVID-19 diagnostic tests at the Incheon International Airport on Friday. (Yonhap)
South Korea is thought to have passed the peak of the third COVID-19 wave thanks to tough social distancing guidelines as the country reported the lowest number of cases since Jan. 2 on Friday, officials said.

Korea saw 674 new COVID-19 new cases – 633 locally transmitted and 41 imported from overseas – raising the total number of cases recorded in Korea to 67,358.

The daily number of new cases has stayed below 1,000 for four days in a row, continuing to show signs of slowing down. The country added 870 new cases Thursday and 838 on Wednesday, and Friday’s count is the lowest figure recorded since 657 cases in Jan. 2.

By Thursday’s end, Korea also reported a total of 1,081 deaths from the coronavirus, up 35 from a day earlier. The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition reached 404, up from 400 people a day earlier.

Officials said the pace of transmission seems to have slowed after reaching a peak last month due to tougher social distancing measures reducing people’s movements and cutting the number of private gatherings.

“It is likely that the number of new cases will fall gradually considering how infections occur in local communities,” said senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho in a press briefing Friday.

“But the seasonal effect of winter is still in effect, and we can’t let our guards down as there still remain many dangers including the mutated virus.”

Authorities have been on close watch on the spread of the new COVID-19 variant first reported in Britain, extending its ban on flights from the country until Jan. 21.

By Friday morning, Korea has reported 15 cases of the new COVID-19 variant. The latest three reported Thursday belonged to family members of a patient who arrived in Korea from Britain in mid-December.

In response, the country started mandating negative COVID-19 test results for foreigners arriving in Korea on Friday. The tests must be taken within 72 hours of departure. Arriving passengers will also be required to undergo additional testing throughout their two-week mandatory self-quarantine.

The country has also been finding more infection clusters traced to elderly care facilities and correctional facilities throughout Korea, with a detention centers in Seoul being the second-largest source of infections in Korea with more than 1,000 cases since finding the first case in late November.

To curb the virus spread and minimize further infections, the government is imposing Level 2.5 social distancing rules in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province and Level 2 rules for the rest of the country until Jan. 17.

An additional ban on private gatherings of five or more people is to expire on the same date.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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