People wait in line Friday to get tested for COVID-19 at a testing center in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)
South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases stayed in the 600s for the third consecutive day Saturday as health authorities ramp up their vigilance amid growing concerns over a looming fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The country reported 658 more COVID-19 cases, including 630 local infections, raising the total caseload to 113,444, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said. It added four more deaths, raising the total to 1,794.
Saturday's daily caseload was down from 673 on Friday, 698 on Thursday and 731 on Wednesday, which marked the highest since Jan. 7.
Health authorities cautioned against a hike in group infections in public places, including sports facilities, churches, karaoke rooms, restaurants, workplaces and schools, as people increased outdoor activities in the spring season with the vaccination program under way.
Cluster infections continue to hamper the antivirus campaign.
The number of cases traced to an entertainment bar in the southeastern port city of Busan swelled to 476, up 10 from the previous tally, while cases linked to a university in Wanju, North Jeolla Province, rose by two to 21.
The number of cases traced to a workplace in Seocho District in southern Seoul rose by two to 18, while infections linked to a clothing recycling business in Gwangju, Gyeoggi Province, grew by two to 27.
Officials warned of tougher rules on multiuse facilities and business operations if the current infection trend continues.
Last week, the country decided to maintain the current level of social distancing rules through May 2 to contain the virus, while banning operations of entertainment establishments in the greater Seoul area and the southeastern port city of Busan.
The greater Seoul area -- home to half of the nation's 52 million population -- is under the Level 2 distancing scheme, the third highest in the five-tier system. The rest of the country is under Level 1.5 except for some municipalities.
Restaurants in the capital area are allowed to have dine-in customers until 10 p.m. under the current guidelines, but officials said they could shorten their business hours if daily cases rise further.
Since the country started its vaccination program on Feb. 26, a total of 1,482,969 people, or 2.85 percent of the total population, have been given COVID-19 vaccine shots, including 102,390 the previous day. The number of those who have received two doses stood at 60,577.
AstraZeneca's vaccine has been given to 998,736 people, while 484,233 received that of Pfizer.
The authorities said that 12,119 cases of suspected side effects after vaccinations have been reported, up 106 from a day earlier. But 98.3 percent have involved mild symptoms, including muscle pain and fever.
Four more deaths after vaccinations were reported, raising the total to 56. No causal relationship between the deaths and vaccinations has been confirmed, the KDCA said.
South Korea plans to vaccinate 12 million people by the end of June to achieve herd immunity by November, but concerns are rising over delays in the inoculation drive after the US suspended use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over rare blood clots.
In an unpleasant development, health authorities said that they are working to collect 700,000 "low dead space" syringes distributed for COVID-19 vaccination due to reports of an alien substance in them.
Of the newly confirmed locally transmitted cases, 213 came from Seoul, with Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital city reporting 204 cases. Busan logged 33 new infections.
There were 28 additional imported cases.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients was 108, down three from the previous day.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 103,594, up 532 from a day earlier.
As of 9 p.m. Saturday, health authorities and local governments reported 623 new virus cases, up 39 from the same time on Friday.
Among them, 389 were reported in the greater Seoul area, accounting for 62.4 percent of the total, with 234 reported in other areas.
The figure will be counted in the daily tally to be announced Sunday. (Yonhap)