|One of Seoul's largest downtown areas, Gwanghwamun Square, is noticeably less crowded with less traffic volume than usual, Saturday morning, as there have been over 500 new daily COVID-19 infections nationwide over the past several days, raising the central government's concern over protecting residents from the unrelenting global pandemic. Yonhap|
The daily number of COVID-19 infections here exceeded 500 for the third straight day Friday, as the health authorities face growing pressure to toughen social distancing restrictions amid continued sporadic infection clusters across the country.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), 504 more COVID-19 cases, including 486 local infections, were reported raising the total caseload to 33,375. It reported six additional fatalities, bringing the total to 522.
The daily infection numbers have been in triple digits since Nov. 8, with the figure hovering above 300 since Nov. 18, except for Monday. Amid deepening worries over the third infection wave, the government is expected to decide how to readjust social distancing curbs Sunday.
The latest figure is down from 569 for Thursday and 583 cases for Wednesday when the daily tally spiked to an eight-month high.
Fears of transmission have further risen as over 493,400 students across the country are set to take the state-run college entrance exam Dec. 3, with infection clusters at private gatherings, public facilities and the military complicating efforts to fight the coronavirus.
The KDCA said that 176 new virus cases were reported in Seoul, while the daily tallies for Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces, and Busan and Incheon stood at 122, 33, 27 and 25, respectively.
|Vehicles queue up to purchase soybeans at a makeshift market prepared near Imjingang Subway Station in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Nov. 27. The drive-thru market running until Nov. 29 replaced Paju Jangdan Soybean Festival, originally planned as a traditional street market, which was canceled due to concerns over COVID-19. Yonhap|
Of the 18 imported cases, eight were from the Americas and another eight from Asia excluding China.
The authorities had raised social distancing measures by one notch to Level 2, the third-highest in the country's five-tier system, in the Seoul metropolitan area, where the majority of cases have been identified, and began to apply them from Tuesday.
Other municipalities have also been enforcing tougher distancing rules depending on their coronavirus situation.
On Sunday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters plans to convene a session to discuss whether to again raise the social distancing level for the Seoul metropolitan area and other provinces.
The move came as some medical experts have warned that if the government does not employ more stringent measures to contain the pandemic, the daily virus count could soar to 1,000.
Officials, however, appear circumspect about rushing to toughen social distancing curbs, as the recently strengthened restrictions will take some time to show their effect.
The total number of people released from quarantine after recovering from COVID-19 stood at 27,349, up 246 from Thursday. (Yonhap)