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New virus cases at 15-day high as extended Lunar New Year holiday kicks off

Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the minor opposition People's Party, carries out a new coronavirus test on a visitor at a makeshift COVID-19 clinic in front of Seoul Station, Thursday. (Yonhap)
Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the minor opposition People's Party, carries out a new coronavirus test on a visitor at a makeshift COVID-19 clinic in front of Seoul Station, Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korea's daily virus cases bounced back above 500 Thursday, putting authorities on heightened alert over a potential surge in infections during the extended Lunar New Year holiday.

The country added 504 more COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, including 467 local infections, raising the total caseload to 82,434, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

It marks the biggest daily tally since Jan. 27 when the figure was 559.

The Thursday tally also marks a jump from 444 cases registered on Wednesday, 303 cases on Tuesday as well as Monday's 289 cases, which was the lowest daily tally since Nov. 23 last year.

South Korea added 10 more deaths, raising the total to 1,496.

Since late last month, the daily caseload has been moving in the 300-400 range due to continuing cluster infections from unauthorized religious education facilities in the central and southwestern regions.

New virus infections have been slowing down since the third wave of the pandemic peaked at an all-time high of 1,241 daily cases on Dec. 25.

Health authorities remain on heightened alert as the extended Lunar New Year holiday kicked off Thursday for a four-day run including the weekend.

Many Koreans travel across the country to visit their relatives and families during the traditional holiday.

To fend off a potential flare-up during the holiday when travel and gatherings increase, authorities have kept in place tight social distancing requirements throughout the holiday, including a nationwide ban on gatherings of five or more people.

Health authorities plan to announce whether they will lower the current virus curbs, the second-highest in the five-tier scheme, over the weekend, after gauging the trajectory of the pandemic during the holiday.

Of the newly identified local infections, 177 cases were reported in Seoul and 181 cases in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, reported 25 more cases. The three regions represent around half of the nation's population.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 170, down 14 from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was up 412 from the previous day to reach 72,638. (Yonhap)

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