Medical workers conduct COVID-19 tests on students at an elementary school in the central city of Daejeon on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's new coronavirus cases soared to nearly 2,000 Wednesday, as fresh concerns emerge over people letting their guard down ahead of the start of a gradual easing of virus curbs aimed at returning to normalcy.
The country added 1,952 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,930 local infections, raising the total caseload to 356,305, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The latest count is a big jump from the previous day's 1,266 and 1,190 reported on Monday, although the daily caseload remained below 2,000 for the 19th straight day.
The daily infection tally has stayed in the quadruple digits since July 7, including the record high of 3,272 cases on Sept. 25.
The country added nine more deaths, raising the death toll to 2,797. The fatality rate stood at 0.79 percent.
Wednesday's hike in the daily cases came amid growing concerns that people might be lowering their guard too soon with the planned shift to the "living with COVID-19" scheme on Nov. 1.
Under the scheme, the virus restrictions will be lifted in phases through the end of January next year, starting off with allowing cafes, restaurants and other multiuse facilities to operate 24 hours and private gatherings of up to 10 people, regardless of vaccination.
But basic preventive measures will stay in effect, like wearing masks indoors.
The government will also introduce the "vaccine pass" system next month, which requires a vaccination certificate or a negative test result for entry into multiuse and high-risk facilities.
Health authorities are expected to keep a close tab on the virus curve over the coming days.
Of the locally transmitted cases reported Wednesday, Seoul had 729 cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province logging 740 cases and Incheon, west of Seoul, 125 cases.
Twenty-two cases came from overseas, putting the cumulative total at 15,025.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 329,658, up by 2,066 from a day earlier, the KDCA said.
About 40.89 million people, or 79.6 percent of the country's 52 million population, had received their first COVID-19 vaccine shots as of Tuesday. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 36.71 million, or 71.5 percent. (Yonhap)