(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figure in 6th para )
SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases bounced back to above 1,500 on Tuesday with COVID-19 infections showing little signs of abating as health authorities strive to speed up vaccinations.
The country added 1,509 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,470 local infections, raising the total caseload to 239,287, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Tuesday’s tally was compared with 1,418 on Monday, 1,628 on Sunday, 1,880 last Saturday and 2,052 last Friday.
Daily cases, which have stayed above 1,000 for 49 days in a row, have typically fallen every Monday and Tuesday due to fewer tests over the weekend but jumped back up every Wednesday.
The country added six more deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 2,228, the KDCA said.
Health authorities and local governments said later that 1,650 new cases were confirmed as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, 479 more that at the same time the previous day. The KDCA compile data on additional cases through midnight and announce the daily tally the following morning.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told an anti-virus meeting that the government will come up with more measures to speed up vaccinations as a recent surge in infections mainly came from people in their 20s and 30s, most of whom are unvaccinated.
On Thursday, health authorities started inoculating people aged between 18 and 49, or 15.23 million people. About 66 percent of them have made appointments for first doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
As Moderna Inc. pledged to supply about 7 million doses over the next two weeks, health authorities will increase COVID-19 vaccine supplies to each hospital, the KDCA said.
Also, more people aged between 18 and 49 will be allowed to get vaccinated ahead of next month’s fall harvest Chuseok holiday, set for Sept. 20-22, it said.
Despite six weeks of the toughest restrictions in the greater Seoul area, the fourth wave of the pandemic has shown no signs of abating as the highly contagious delta-driven infections have complicated antivirus measures.
The wider Seoul area, where half of the nation’s 52 million population lives, has been under Level 4 restrictions, the highest of the four-tier virus curbs, for the past six weeks, while most other areas have implemented Level 3 distancing for the last four weeks. The current social distancing measures were extended Monday until Sept. 5.
Under the tougher measures, restaurants and cafes will be required to close at 9 p.m., an hour earlier than the current nighttime curfew. The semi-lockdown measures prohibit gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m. and ban the operation of nightclubs and other entertainment venues.
With the delta variant sweeping the nation, the number of foreign residents who were infected with COVID-19 was also on a sharp rise, said Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official.
Between Aug. 15 and 21, the number of foreigners who were infected with COVID-19 stood at 1,665, accounting for 13.6 percent of total confirmed cases, Sohn said.
Health authorities are ramping up COVID-19 tests at companies where many foreign residents work, Sohn said.
As of Tuesday, 26.3 million people, or 51.2 percent of the population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 12.28 million people have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.
The government aims to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the nation’s population by September to create herd immunity in November.
Of the newly confirmed domestic cases, 429 were from Seoul, 469 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 62 from the western port city of Incheon, the authorities said.
The southeastern port city of Busan identified 58 new patients, and South Gyeongsang Province had 68 more, they said.
The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 420.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 209,193, up 1,592 from the previous day.