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By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases rose back to above 600 on Saturday, health authorities said, as the fourth wave of the virus continued with sporadic cluster infections and variant cases.
The country reported 666 more COVID-19 cases, including 633 local infections, raising the total caseload to 135,344, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Saturday’s daily caseload compares with 561 on Friday, 646 on Thursday and 554 on Wednesday.
There were four additional virus deaths, raising the total to 1,926. The fatality rate came to 1.42 percent.
Currently, the greater Seoul area, home to more than half of the country’s 52 million people, is under Level 2 social distancing, the third highest in the five-tier scheme, while the rest of the country is mostly subject to Level 1.5 distancing. Gatherings of five or more people are banned nationwide in principle.
On Friday, South Korea said it will extend the current distancing rules for another three weeks starting Monday, as the number of new daily average patients has not been budging below the 500 mark with more people enjoying warm weather activities.
The country has reported more than 1,000 cases of variant strains of COVID-19 from Britain, South Africa, Brazil and India, with southern cities, such as Ulsan, reporting the most variant cases.
On Saturday, South Korea resumed providing initial Pfizer vaccine shots to citizens age 75 or older after a temporary suspension due to supply shortage.
While the country launched its vaccination program on Feb. 26, it has been sluggish in inoculating South Koreans amid the tight supply of vaccines.
As of Friday, 1.7 million people, or 3.3 percent of the country’s population, have been fully vaccinated, receiving both doses of two-part vaccines.
A total of 3.79 million people, or 7.4 percent, have received their first shots, up 13,764 from a day earlier.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been given to 2.06 million people, while 1.73 million have received that of Pfizer.
Under the country’s vaccination blueprint, South Korea aims to inoculate 13 million people by the end of June and achieve herd immunity by November.
On Friday (Washington time), U.S. President Joe Biden said his country will provide COVID-19 vaccinations for all 550,000 South Korean troops and enter a partnership with Seoul on global vaccine supply following summit talks with President Moon Jae-in.
Moon said the cooperative project, which will combine U.S. technology with South Korea’s production capacity, will contribute to vaccine supply in the Indo-Pacific region and “be of great help to securing a stable supply for South Korea, too.”
Of the locally transmitted cases, 205 came from Seoul, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province accounted for 163.
The southeastern city of Daegu added 55 more cases, while the eastern Gangwon Province and Ulsan each saw 29 more infections.
Cases traced to a market in the southeastern district of Songpa in Seoul came to 16, while infections tied to a workplace in the southern Geumcheon ward stood at 15.
In Daegu, the number of virus patients related to an entertainment bar was tallied at 58.
The proportion of untraceable cases accounted for 26.4 percent of the total infections reported over the past two weeks.
Imported cases came to 33, raising the total to 8,868.
Of them, China accounted for 10, followed by the Philippines and India with four each.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 150, up three from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 874, up 125,032 from a day earlier. This indicates that 92.38 percent of the COVID-19 patients reported here have been cured.
South Korea has carried out 9,520,966 COVID-19 tests since last year, including 33,858 from the previous day.
As of 9 p.m. Saturday, South Korea reported 552 new cases, down 67 from the same time on Friday. Daily cases, compiled by health authorities and local governments, are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.