(ATTN: UPDATES with details 7th para)
SEOUL, May 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new COVID-19 cases fell below 30,000 on Saturday in an apparent sign that the country's virus cases are significantly declining amid eased social distancing rules.
The country added 29,581 new virus infections, including 25 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 17,756,627, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The daily figure fell below the 30,000 mark for the first time in 15 weeks for any Saturday.
The figure marked a sharp drop from 32,451 reported the previous day and 35,906 added on Thursday.
The country added 55 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total to 23,661, the KDCA said. The fatality rate came to 0.13 percent.
The number of critically ill patients came to 341, compared with 347 the previous day.
As of 9 p.m. South Korea had reported 24,945 new daily infections, down 3,789 from the same time a day earlier, according to health authorities and local governments. Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.
The country eased social distancing guidelines last month as it saw a clear downward trend in new infections since they peaked at 621,178 on March 17.
The country also eased the outdoor mask mandate on May 2, except for large gatherings of 50 or more, as it is moving toward a return to normalcy. The indoor mask mandate remains in effect.
On Friday, South Korea said it plans to ease restrictions for entry into the country in a bid to boost convenience for inbound travelers.
Starting May 23, the government will recognize negative rapid antigen test results for travelers boarding flights to South Korea, on top of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results currently being accepted.
Of the newly added cases, Seoul accounted for 4,764 cases, with its surrounding Gyeonggi Province taking up 6,980 cases. There were also 1,407 additional patients from Incheon, west of the capital city.
A total of 33.2 million people had received their first booster shots, representing 64.7 percent of the population, and 3.28 million people, or 6.4 percent, had gotten their second booster shots, the KDCA added.