(ATTN: UPDATES with more info and health minister's remarks throughout)
SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases increased by the smallest number in nearly two months Monday as the country steps up its virus fight ahead of Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving.
The country added 50 more COVID-19 cases, including 40 local infections, bringing the total caseload to 23,661, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The daily new cases are the lowest in 48 days since Aug. 11 when 34 cases were reported.
The daily new number is also sharply down from 95 a day earlier, but the fall in daily virus cases also came as virus tests tend to be fewer over the weekend than weekdays.
Daily new local infections stayed in double digits for the fourth straight day after the country reported 95 on Friday, 49 on Saturday and 73 on Sunday, the KDCA said.
The number of daily new infections bounced back to over 100 Wednesday and stayed over 100 Thursday and Friday. The number fell below 100 Saturday.
New virus cases had been in the triple digits for more than a month since Aug. 14 due to cases tied to a church in Seoul and an anti-government rally before briefly falling below 100.
The government has designated Monday to Oct. 11 as a special period for strengthened virus curbs as many people are expected to travel during the Chuseok holiday, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday.
The biggest, imminent challenge is to prevent a potential rebound in new virus cases around the upcoming Chuseok holiday, which traditionally entails mass movements of people and family gatherings across the country.
The country also has a three-day break from Oct. 9 to 11, when Hangeul Day, which celebrates the Korean alphabet, is combined with the weekend.
"The number of local infections is on a downward trend but is still fluctuating," Health Minister Park Neunghoo said in a regular government COVID-19 response meeting.
Health authorities have been urging people to stay home over the holidays, but to better contain local transmissions of COVID-19, they unveiled more tailored guidelines last week under the Level 2 distancing in the country's three-tier social distancing scheme.
At the current level, indoor gatherings of 50 or more people are banned, and outdoor meetings of 100 or more people are also prohibited. Sports events are allowed without spectators.
By region, Seoul added 19 new virus cases, and nearby Gyeonggi Province and Incheon saw 13 and one new patients, respectively, according to the KDCA.
Other municipalities reported new infections, with North Gyeongsang Province reporting four new cases and the southeastern port city of Busan adding one new case, the KDCA.
Cluster infections continued to be reported at workplaces, nursing homes, churches and day care centers, especially in the greater Seoul area.
Cases traced to a nursing hospital in Seoul's northern ward of Dobong came to 24 as of Sunday, with 24 cases from a gym in Seoul's western ward of Gwanak, the KDCA said.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients stood at 120 as of midnight, down four from the previous day, according to the authorities.
The country also reported 10 new imported cases, sharply down from 22 a day earlier, the KDCA said.
South Korea reported five additional deaths, raising the death toll to 406. The fatality rate was 1.72 percent.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 21,292, up 44 from the previous day.
The country has carried out 2,301,303 coronavirus tests since Jan. 3.