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(LEAD) New virus cases in 500s for 2nd day; worst wave of pandemic slowing

09:49 January 13, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- The number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea remained in the 500 range for the second day in a row Wednesday, indicating that the third wave of the pandemic is possibly heading for a marked slowdown after a peak on the back of monthlong tougher virus curbs.

The country added 562 more COVID-19 cases, including 536 local infections, raising the total caseload to 70,212, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

A medical worker collect specimens for coronavirus testing at a makeshift clinic in front of Seoul Station on Jan. 12, 2021. (Yonhap)

The total caseload surpassed the 70,000 mark since the first confirmed case was reported in the country on Jan. 20, 2020, the KDCA said.

Wednesday's daily caseload is slightly up from 537 recorded a day earlier.

The daily number of new cases has remained below the 1,000 mark this month except for two days, the KDCA said.

An average of 628 new patients was reported during the cited period, it said.

The country has enforced the Level 2.5 social distancing scheme, which is the second highest in the country's five-tier scheme, in the greater Seoul area and Level 2 rules in other areas since Dec. 8. Health authorities extended the measures until Sunday.

Private gatherings of five or more people are banned across the nation during the extended period.

Restaurants and high-risk entertainment venues, including bars, clubs and karaoke establishments, in the Seoul metropolitan area will be allowed to conditionally reopen when the current Level 2.5 measures expire.

The authorities earlier said they will decide whether to lower or maintain the social distancing level Saturday, possibly gradually lifting the ban on business at high-risk entertainment venues.

Despite the apparent downward trend, health authorities have been vigilant against a new virus variant that was first reported in Britain and a continued rise in cluster infections.

The country has reported 16 variant cases. The authorities extended the ban on passenger flights departing from Britain until Jan. 21.

Of the locally transmitted cases, the capital city of Seoul accounted for 148 cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province took up 189. Incheon, west of Seoul, had 20 new cases. The greater Seoul area accounts for around half of the nation's population.

Outside of greater Seoul, the southeastern port city of Busan reported 35 additional cases and South Gyeongsang Province added 42.

Among the confirmed cases, 26 were imported from abroad, slightly down from 29 a day earlier.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 374, down 16 from a day earlier.

South Korea added 20 more deaths Wednesday, raising the total to 1,185, according to the authorities.

The fatality rate came to 1.69 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was up 1,067 from the previous day to reach 54,636.



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