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Daily virus cases in the 500s for 3rd straight day

A citizen gets tested at a screening clinic at Seoul Station in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
A citizen gets tested at a screening clinic at Seoul Station in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Korea stayed in the 500s for a third consecutive day, officials said Thursday, hinting at a possible extension of tough social distancing measures to prevent a resurgence.

The government’s central response team said the number of new COVID-19 cases increased by 524 to 77,728 as of midnight. The third wave, which began in mid-November, has seen a gradual decline in the new year.

Of the new confirmed cases, 496 were locally transmitted, down 40 from the day before. A majority of infections were from the Seoul metropolitan area, with 131 cases in Seoul, 162 in Gyeonggi Province and 24 in Incheon. The remaining 28 were imported cases, of which nine were foreigners.

Korea reported a total of 1,195 deaths, up 10 from a day earlier. The average fatality rate in Korea is 1.69 percent. The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition reached 380, an increase of six from the previous day.

Korea conducted 53,047 tests throughout Wednesday, 5,180 fewer than the day before.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, told a news briefing, “Measures related to social distancing and small groups are key issues, but we believe that it may be difficult to solve immediately.”

“The weekly average (the number of locally transmitted cases) remains at 500, but this is still quite high compared to the first and second wave of pandemic,” he said.

“If distancing measures are eased abruptly, the number of patients is likely to increase again, so we plan to take this into consideration and make adjustments accordingly,” he added.

This means there is a high possibility that the current distancing measures -- Level 2.5 in the metropolitan area and Level 2 in the non-capital area -- are likely to be extended. The current restriction measures are scheduled to end on Sunday.

The government is scheduled to hold a meeting at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters on Saturday to finalize plans to adjust quarantine measures, including social distancing rules.

Despite the slower spread of the virus, still many confirmed cases are reported in dense settings such as at religious facilities, nursing homes, prayer centers and correctional facilities.

The number of confirmed cases from a cluster at BTJ Center for All Nations, a local evangelical church facility in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, stood at 662 so far. Another massive infection cluster that broke out at the International Prayer Center in Jinju City, South Gyeongsang Province, has also spread across the country, including Busan, with a total of 73 confirmed cases.

Hyojeong Nursing Hospital in Gwangsan-gu saw an increase of 14 cases compared to the previous day, reaching a cumulative tally of 134. At Dongbu Detention Center in eastern Seoul, the number of inmates and employees infected reached a total of 1,214.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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