Seoul (South Korea), November 22: South Korea's new coronavirus cases fell below 3,000 for the first time in six days Monday due to fewer tests over the weekend, but concerns remain high over a virus resurgence amid eased social distancing rules and this week's full-fledged reopening of schools.
The country reported 2,827 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,086 local infections, raising the total caseload to 418,252, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
This marked the first time in six days that the daily infections have fallen below 3,000, though the figure has remained in the quadruple digits since July 7.
Daily virus caseloads tend to decrease on weekends and holidays due to fewer virus tests.
The country added 24 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 3,298, with the fatality rate standing at 0.79 percent.
The number of critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 515, down two from a day earlier, but the figure remained over 500 for three consecutive days.
On Monday, all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide resumed full-fledged in-person classes in line with the government's "living with COVID-19" policy meant to bring the country gradually back to pre-pandemic normalcy amid high vaccination rates.
Under the first phase, people are allowed to gather in groups of up to 10, regardless of vaccinations. Operation hour curfews for businesses, like restaurants, cafes and movie theaters, are fully lifted, except for nightlife establishments, such as clubs and bars.
Concerns of an upsurge in infections are growing as eased social distancing rules and the return of students to classes could spark a fast spread of the coronavirus virus among at-risk people and many unvaccinated teens.
On Sunday, President Moon Jae-in expressed concerns over recent hikes in infections and a shortage of beds at hospital intensive care units during a town hall meeting.
The government said it is currently striving to secure sufficient hospital beds and medical staff, and speed up vaccination of vulnerable people.
With daily infections remaining high, health authorities are considering delaying the introduction of the next phase of eased social distancing rules set to take effect in mid-December.
KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong warned earlier this month the government could keep intact the current first-phase social distancing rules or strengthen antivirus measures if the current trends of infections persist.
Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul, the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western port city of Incheon accounted for the largest portions, reporting 1,274, 817 and 159 infections, respectively, the KDCA said.
A total of 42.23 million people, or 82.3 percent of the country's population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, and 40.49 million people, or 78.9 percent, have been fully vaccinated.
The government has been working to administer booster shots to senior citizens and other vulnerable groups, as breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people have grown due to waning vaccine effectiveness.