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Daily virus cases hit new high; infections in non-capital area, delta variant worrisome

People wait in line to receive COVID-19 tests at a makeshift virus testing clinic in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
People wait in line to receive COVID-19 tests at a makeshift virus testing clinic in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases hit a new high Wednesday, health authorities said, as the highly transmissible delta variant and rising infections outside the greater Seoul area continue to hamper the virus fight.

The country added 1,896 COVID-19 cases, including 1,823 local infections, raising the total caseload to 193,427, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The daily number was up 531 from the previous day.

It was the largest daily caseload since the country reported its first virus case on Jan. 20, 2020, breaking the previous record of 1,842 tallied last Wednesday.

The country added four more COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 2,083. The fatality rate was 1.08 percent.

The daily caseload has remained above 1,000 since July 7 due to the resurgence in the greater Seoul area. But recently, cases in non-Seoul regions have been growing amid increased activities in the summer vacation season.

In their fight against the fourth wave of the pandemic, health authorities also worry that the virus curve may not have reached its peak yet, as the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 is becoming the dominant strain in the country.

To stem the spread of the virus, South Korea extended the highest distancing measures of Level 4 in the Seoul metropolitan area for another two weeks through Aug. 8. The toughest distancing restrictions ban gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m. and place a 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes, and a ban on nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

The country will also enforce Level 3 distancing restrictions in the non-capital areas through Aug. 8, though some municipalities have adopted Level 4 measures to better contain the virus.

Under Level 3, cafes and restaurants can accept customers until 10 p.m., and only takeout and delivery services are available after that time. Private gatherings of five or more people are banned, while mass-gathering events must accommodate fewer than 50 people.

South Korea is also working to boost its vaccination drive by expanding inoculations to the younger population.

The government said Moderna will resume its vaccine shipments to the country next week. The U.S. bio firm earlier said the shipments initially set to arrive here late this month had been delayed to August due to production issues.

In December, Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel agreed to supply COVID-19 vaccine doses for 20 million people to South Korea during a videoconference with President Moon Jae-in.

A total of 17.9 million people, or 34.9 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 6.97 million people have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.

A total of 112,688 cases of adverse effects after vaccinations, with 1,809 coming in the past two days, have been reported since the country began vaccinations on Feb. 26, though 95 percent of them were found to be mild symptoms. There have been 428 deaths after vaccinations, but health authorities have so far confirmed causality with vaccinations in only two cases.

Of the 1,823 domestic cases, infections from non-capital areas accounted for 611, or 33.5 percent, amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.

The southeastern port city of Busan and the surrounding South Gyeongsang Province reported 99 and 93 cases, respectively.

In the capital area, Seoul reported 568, while the surrounding Gyeonggi Province added 543. The western port city of Incheon confirmed 101.

Imported cases came to 73, down 16 from the previous day. The total number of imported cases is now at 11,733.

Of the new imported cases, 21 came from Uzbekistan followed by Indonesia with 19.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 170,494, up 1,865 from a day earlier.

The number of patients in critical condition came to 286, up 17 from the previous day. (Yonhap)