(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more details throughout)
SEOUL, Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- The number of new COVID-19 cases in South Korea reached a five-month high Saturday, with strong rebounds of transmissions in and around Seoul pressuring authorities to consider reintroducing stricter social distancing guidelines and other safety measures.
The country's new daily coronavirus cases reached 166 as of midnight Friday, raising the total caseload to 15,039, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Of the new cases, 155 were of local transmissions.
New daily infections reached triple digits for the second straight day, following 138 new cases reported as of 10 p.m. Friday.
The country reported no additional fatalities, keeping the death toll at 305. The fatality rate was 2.03 percent.
The number of new cases was the most since March 11, when the country reported 242 new daily infections during the height of a mass outbreak in Daegu and a cluster originating from a call center building in Seoul.
The number of new cases has shown a dramatic increase during the week, with new daily confirmed cases nearly doubling from 28 on Monday to 54 reported on Wednesday, with people testing positive for the virus reaching triple digits Friday.
The KCDC has warned that the greater Seoul area is teetering on the brink of another spike in virus cases and that the easing of social distancing guidance may be rolled back if the upward trend continues.
Of the new locally transmitted cases, 72 were reported in Seoul and 67 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province.
Sporadic cluster infections have shown no signs of a let-up, with most cases traced to churches in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.
Infections tied to a church in Yongin, south of Seoul, reached 72 as of noon Friday, up 60 from the previous day.
Cases linked to a church in northern Seoul rose by 14 to 19. The Seoul metropolitan government ordered the temporary shutdown of the church, with health authorities conducting virus tests on 1,897 people.
It was also reported that 31 residents in a town in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, were also infected with COVID-19.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun will convene an emergency meeting of the virus response headquarters in the afternoon to decide whether to tighten social distancing measures.
On Friday, the government said it was considering strengthening the infection preventive measures in Seoul and neighboring areas by one notch to Level 2.
In June, South Korea adopted a three-tier social distancing scheme, under which the country is currently at Level 1 distancing measures.
The latest spikes in cases in those areas put local governments on high alert. They ordered restrictions on gatherings and activities at religious facilities to contain the further spread of the virus.
On Friday, the Seoul city government said it decided to place tougher restrictions on gatherings at around 7,500 religious facilities, including churches and Buddhist temples.
Face-to-face events, provisions of food and group eating will be prohibited at those facilities. During regular services at churches, the singing of hymns will be restricted while collective prayer will be banned.
The Gyeonggi provincial government also raised the level of social distancing by restricting gatherings at churches and other religious facilities.