(ATTN: UPDATES with vaccination rate in lead para; ADDS info in para 9, new photo; AMENDS headline)
SEOUL, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) — South Korea saw its new coronavirus cases rise slightly Saturday, but the daily caseload stayed below 2,000 for the 15th straight day, as the country’s vaccination rate surpassed a key milestone of 70 percent.
The country reported 1,508 new cases, including 1,487 local infections, raising the total caseload to 350,476, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said. Saturday’s tally is up from the 1,439 counted the previous day.
The death toll came to 2,745, up 20 from a day earlier.
Daily virus caseloads tend to fluctuate depending on the number of coronavirus tests, which generally decrease during weekends and holidays.
Although South Korea has logged more than 1,000 daily cases since early July, it is seeing a downward trend in its coronavirus infections after the fourth wave of the pandemic peaked in late September.
The average daily number of confirmed cases during the Oct. 10-16 period was 1,562, down 20.3 percent from the previous week, according to KDCA data released earlier this week.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 546 new cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding 512 and Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, 106 cases.
The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 322,536, up 2,219 from the previous day, the KDCA said.
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, 70 percent of the 51.34 million population had been reported as being fully vaccinated, while 79.4 percent had received their first shots, according to the KDCA.
With accelerating inoculations, South Korea is gearing up to return to some semblance of normalcy.
The government has said it will introduce the “living with COVID-19” scheme, when 70 percent of the country’s population and 80 percent of all South Korean adults become fully vaccinated.
On Friday, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said that the government will begin its exit strategies from the pandemic in a gradual manner, adding that restrictions will be first removed for small businesses hit hard by strict social distancing rules.
He said the government’s coronavirus response will focus more on the prevention of severe hospitalizations and deaths, rather than on infections.