New cases under 1,800; toughest social distancing extended in greater Seoul

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South Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases fell under 1,800 on Friday as the country extended the toughest social distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area through early October.

The country added 1,709 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,675 local infections, raising the total caseload to 257,110, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

It marked a slight drop from the 1,961 tallied Thursday. Daily cases have stayed above 1,000 for 59 consecutive days.

The country added five more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 2,308, the KDCA said.

The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 367, down four from the previous day.

South Korea said the existing distancing measures have helped the country to contain any further spread of the virus to some extent, but it cannot go ahead on significantly loosening strings as it is also vigilant over more contagious variants of COVID-19, including the delta strain.

Accordingly, health authorities decided to maintain the current social distancing measures — Level 4 in the capital area and Level 3 in other regions — through Oct. 3 to brace for Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, which runs from Sept.18-22.

Regional governments can also adopt their own Level 4 guidelines, depending on their local situations.

Some of the restrictions, however, will be lifted, according to the government.

While South Korea has been banning gatherings of more than four people nationwide, health authorities said it has decided to allow gatherings of up to six in the capital area, although it should include at least two vaccinated people during the day time and four after 6 p.m.

Gatherings of up to eight participants will be allowed over Chuseok as well.

Areas under Level 3 can also have gatherings of eight including four fully vaccinated people.

Other updated measures include allowing restaurants and bars in the greater Seoul area to operate through 10 p.m. from the current restriction of 9 p.m.

A total of 29.6 million people, or 57.7 percent of the population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 16.7 million people, or 32.7 percent, have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.

The country plans to provide at least one jab to 70 percent of the population by the end of September to create herd immunity in November. South Korea’s inoculation program, however, recently has been challenged by a delayed supply of shots.

Of the newly confirmed domestic cases, 540 were from Seoul, 513 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 115 from the western port city of Incheon, the authorities said.

Imported cases, which include South Korean nationals, came to 34.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 228,618, up 2,396 from the previous day.