|People sitting this year's national civil servant Level 7 qualification test walk toward a test center at a high school Attached to Chunag-Ang University College of Education in Seoul's Gangnam District, Saturday. Yonhap|
New COVID-19 cases fell below 100 for the first time in four days here Saturday, as the country is struggling with sporadic infection clusters in the greater Seoul area and persisting untraceable cases ahead of a major holiday.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 61 new infections, including 49 local ones, bringing South Korea's total to 23,516 as of midnight Friday.
The number marked the first fall below 100 after three consecutive days of triple-digit new daily infections ― the KCDA reported 114 new cases Friday.
The country had seen daily new cases in the triple-digit range for more than a month since mid-August due mainly to a surge in infections tied to a church in northern Seoul and an anti-government rally, with the figure soaring to a five-month high of 441, Aug. 27.
But the figure fell to double digits Sunday and skidded to as low as 61 Tuesday.
The number of local infections is the lowest since Aug. 13 when the figure stood at 47, according to the health authorities.
Imported cases stood at 12 as of midnight, bringing the total cases from overseas to 3,161, according to the KDCA.
Of the newly confirmed cases from overseas, three came from Uzbekistan, followed by two each from the Philippines, Indonesia and India, it added.
Untraceable cases accounted for around 24.6 percent of the total, or 359, the KCDA said.
Infection clusters continued to be reported at workplaces, nursing homes, churches and day care centers, especially in the greater Seoul area. The capital added 26 new infections, nearby Gyeonggi Province saw 14 and the western city of Incheon had one, according to the KDCA.
Four additional deaths were reported, raising the toll to 399 for a fatality rate of 1.7 percent.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients stood at 122, down six from the previous day, while people released from isolation after making full recoveries numbered 21,166, up 189.
The country has carried out 2,290,345 coronavirus tests since Jan. 3, the KDCA said.
The biggest, imminent challenge is to prevent a potential rebound in new cases around the upcoming Chuseok holiday, which traditionally entails a mass movement of people and family gatherings nationwide.
This year's fall holiday runs from Wednesday through Oct. 4.
With a goal to minimize the potential impact of the holiday, the government decided to designate a special two-week period for strong antivirus efforts starting Monday, while maintaining its Level 2 social distancing guidlines.
Under the new campaign, the operation of 11 types of "high-risk" facilities, including clubs, bars and buffets, will be suspended in the greater metropolitan area for two weeks. As for non-capital regions, five kinds of risk-prone facilities, such as nightclubs will be ordered to shut down for a week.
The authorities also called for the further strengthening of quarantine measures at public facilities, such as restaurants, cafes and theaters, in Seoul and the surrounding area during the period.
Indoor gatherings of 50 or more people will continue to be banned, and outdoor meetings are not allowed to involve more than 100. Sporting events must be held without spectators.
"The Chuseok holiday is approaching and sporadic infections continue, meaning risk factors for a rebound across the country still exist," Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Central Disease Control Headquarters, said in a daily briefing. "We are not in a situation where we can feel relieved by the current daily statistics."
"Please stay at home during this upcoming holiday for your and your family's health," Kwon said, calling for social distancing rules and personal hygiene guidelines to be followed. (Yonhap)