Soldiers receive COVID-19 tests at a makeshift clinic in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases sharply bounced back to a nearly two-week high Wednesday as sporadic cluster infections, along with more transmissible variant cases, continued to pop up across the country.
The health authorities said those who are vaccinated will be partly exempted from wearing masks and other virus restrictions in an effort to encourage more people to get COVID-19 jabs.
The country reported 707 more COVID-19 cases, including 684 local infections, raising the total caseload to 137,682, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The daily caseload marks a sharp rise from 538 new cases Monday and 516 on Tuesday, which were due to fewer tests over the weekend.
It marked the first time for the daily figure to surpass 700 in nearly two weeks.
There were two additional virus deaths, raising the total to 1,940. The fatality rate came to 1.41 percent.
The KDCA said the number of COVID-19 variant cases reached 1,390, with strains from Britain accounting for 1,147, expressing concern that more infectious variant cases may become prevalent in the country.
Amid still rising virus cases, South Korea has been revving up its inoculation program, whose pace has been nearly stalled due to a tight vaccine supply.
South Korea has completed the inoculation of 1.9 million people, or 3.8 percent of the country's 52-million population.
A total of 3.9 million people, or 7.7 percent, have received their first shots, up 77,472 from the previous day. AstraZeneca's vaccine has been given to 2.06 million people, while 1.87 million have received that of Pfizer.
Health authorities believe it can vaccinate up to 1 million per day in the near future once the supply shortage is eased.
On Tuesday, SK Bioscience Co., a local pharmaceutical firm shipped AstraZeneca vaccine doses for 534,000 people. The South Korean firm produces the shots under a contract with AstraZeneca.
Another batch of 1 million doses of the vaccine will be delivered from SK Bioscience's local plant on Thursday.
The supply plan of vaccines for 550,000 soldiers offered by the US will be delivered to the foreign ministry next week.
The country has secured enough shots to fully vaccinate 99 million people, more than enough to vaccinate its entire population, including doses from the COVAX Facility project.
A total of 25,303 cases of side effects after vaccinations have been reported, up 937 from the previous tally, but 95.2 percent were mild symptoms, including muscle pain and fever.
The number of deaths reported among those vaccinated came to 165, up 12 from two days earlier. Their correlations, however, have not yet been determined.
Under the country's vaccination blueprint, the country aims to inoculate 13 million people by the end of June and achieve herd immunity by November.
Health authorities plan to offer a set of incentives for those who have received jabs, as the country aims to speed up the inoculations.
"Should people receive jabs as scheduled, we will be able to gradually normalize our everyday lives starting summer," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said during a daily briefing.
Among others, those who have received their first jabs will be allowed to take their masks off outdoors starting in July.
Those who are fully vaccinated will not be subject to the restrictions on their use of gyms, other facilities and religious gatherings.
South Korea plans to ease rules on wearing masks indoors once the country reaches herd immunity as well.
Health authorities said those who have received at least one shot will be provided with a mobile certificate and other forms of vaccination certificates, which they can use to prove their inoculation history.
Of the locally transmitted cases, 260 came from Seoul and 184 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province.
Gangwong Province reported 25 new patients, and South Gyeongsang Province added 20 more. The southeastern city of Daegu added 30 new cases.
Imported cases came to 23, raising the total to 8,966.
Cases from India came to eight, followed by Indonesia with three and the US with two.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 151, down nine from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 127,582, up 589 from a day earlier. Around 92.7 percent of the patients reported here have been cured.
South Korea carried out 9,629,458 COVID-19 tests so far, including 36,731 from the previous day. (Yonhap)