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(LEAD) Daily coronavirus cases break 1,000 mark for 1st time, toughest distancing under review

10:10 December 13, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments in paras 4, 8-13; ADDS photo)
By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's single-day coronavirus cases broke the 1,000-mark for the first time on Sunday, raising pressure on authorities to enforce the highest level of social distancing to slow down the virus spread.

The country added 1,030 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,002 local infections, raising the total caseload to 42,766, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Sunday's daily caseload jumped from the previous day's record high of 950, marking the highest since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in January.

The number of daily new cases remained around 400 to 600 earlier this month, but it shot up to over 900 on Saturday and broke through 1,000 on Sunday, raising alarm among authorities.

A medical worker collects a specimen from a student at a screening station in Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul, for COVID-19 testing on Dec. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

Cluster infections from private gatherings coupled with massive infections at a church and a hospital in the metropolitan area pushed up the tally from the previous day.

Health authorities raised social distancing measures to Level 2.5, the second highest under the five-tier virus restrictions, earlier this week, but it has failed to slowed the virus so far.

In response to a sharp uptick in new cases, President Moon Jae-in on Saturday referred to the COVID-19 situation as an "emergency" and ordered authorities to mobilize all resources to contain the virus.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said the government will have no choice but to raise the antivirus rules to the highest level unless the spread of the coronavirus is curbed.

Authorities can adopt Level 3 when locally transmitted cases surge to 800 to 1,000 or the daily tally doubles from the previous day.

The average daily cases over the past week stood at 662, falling below the requirement.

Level 3 social distancing is less stringent than the lockdown measures adopted in the United States and Europe, but it is aimed at effectively minimizing social and business activities in a wide range of areas.

The toughest virus restrictions ban gatherings of 10 people or more, including all sporting events, while schools can only offer online classes.

People are advised to stay at home as much as possible, and companies are required to have nonessential employees work from home.

Myeongdong, a shopping district in downtown Seoul, is empty on Dec. 10, 2020, as authorities implemented social distancing Level 2.5, the second-highest restrictions under a five-tier system. (Yonhap)

The greater Seoul area -- home to half of the country's 51 million population -- accounted for the most of the cases.

The capital city of Seoul registered 399 new cases, while surrounding Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, west of Seoul, had 331 and 62, respectively.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 179.

KDCA reported two additional deaths, raising the total to 580.

The number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 321, raising the total to 31,814.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
(END)

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