(ATTN: UPDATES with latest tally in para 5)
SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases hit the highest in three months Thursday as the country pushes for the resumption of AstraZeneca vaccine rollout amid lingering woes over its safety.
The country reported 700 more COVID-19 cases, including 674 local infections, raising the total caseload to 107,598, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said. It marked the highest level since 870 cases on Jan. 7 and a rise from 668 on Wednesday.
The country added two more deaths from COVID-19, increasing the total to 1,758. The fatality rate came to 1.63 percent.
Authorities have been grappling with the rising number of new cases sparked by increased spring travel and loosened vigilance against the virus and warned that enhanced virus curbs may be adopted to flatten the curve.
As of 9 p.m. Thursday, health authorities and local governments reported 606 more COVID-19 cases, 41 fewer than at the same time on Wednesday.
Daily new cases are counted until midnight and then announced the following morning.
On Friday, health authorities plan to decide whether to maintain or raise the current social distancing guidelines, which will be implemented starting next week.
Currently, the greater Seoul area, which houses around half of the nation's 51.7 million population, is under the Level 2 social distancing scheme, the third highest in the five-phase system. The rest is under Level 1.5. Gatherings of more than four people are banned nationwide.
Under the current distancing rules, Level 2.5 can be adopted when the average daily caseload stays above 400. The figure already far exceeded 500 over the past week.
The spiking virus cases also came as health authorities decided to resume administering AstraZeneca vaccines one day after suspending the vaccination program for certain groups over safety concerns, saying they will officially decide on the issue over the weekend.
On Wednesday, the country suspended the use of vaccines by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant and Oxford University for people under age 60, special education instructors and school nurses.
But KDCA stressed the need to continue with the nationwide inoculation program as the benefits of administering the vaccines outweigh the risks.
Kwon Jun-wook, a senior health official, said in a briefing that the European Medicines Agency's review of the AstraZeneca vaccine a day earlier reconfirmed that the benefits of the vaccinations outweigh the risks from side effects, stressing the importance of the vaccinations.
Despite the decision to use the AstraZeneca jabs again, there is still public distrust over the product's safety which may strain the country's vaccine rollout plan under which it aims to create herd immunity by November.
A total of 10.6 million AstraZeneca jabs are scheduled to be administered here by the end of June, which accounts for some 59 percent of injections of some 18 million doses in total in the country by that time.
Since the country started its vaccination program on Feb. 26, a total of 1,075,574 people have been given COVID-19 vaccine shots, including 35,860 the previous day. Around 2.06 percent of the total population was inoculated.
AstraZeneca's vaccine has been given to 903,074 people, while 172,500 received that of Pfizer.
A total of 11,309 cases of side effects after vaccinations have been reported, but 98.5 percent were mild symptoms, including muscle pain and fever.
A total of 40 deaths after vaccinations have been reported, according to the KDCA, up two from the previous day. Authorities, however, said the exact causes of the deaths remain unknown.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul reported 239 new cases, and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital city identified 223 new virus patients. The southern port city of Busan reported 51 more cases.
Major recent cases included a bar in Busan, which had reported 318 infections as of Thursday, up 16 from a day earlier.
Incheon, west of Seoul, added 23 new cases, and North Jeolla Province 24 more.
Additional imported cases came to 26, raising the total to 7,762.
Arrivals from Hungary accounted for six cases, trailed by India with five and Kazakhstan with three.
The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 112, up three from the previous day, the KDCA said.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries moved up 432 to 98,360. Around 91.4 percent of the patients reported here have been cured.
South Korea has carried out 8,012,421 COVID-19 tests since January last year, including 47,254 from the previous day.