A senior citizen receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a makeshift clinic in western Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's new coronavirus cases stayed below 500 for the second consecutive day Sunday due to fewer tests carried out over the weekend, with health authorities announcing eased social distancing rules that will be applied next month.
The country reported 429 new cases, including 380 local infections, raising the total caseload to 151,149, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
South Korea found 507 new cases Friday and 482 on Saturday.
The country added five COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 2002. The fatality rate came to 1.32 percent.
As of 9 p.m. Sunday, 345 additional infections were reported nationwide, down 54 from the same time the previous day, according to health authorities and local governments.
Among them, 235 cases, or 68.1 percent, were in the greater Seoul area.
In its daily update to be announced on Monday morning, accordingly, the country is expected to report around 400 new confirmed cases.
The government unveiled its new social distancing scheme that will go into effect next month, which centers on allowing businesses to stay open longer and permit gatherings of more people.
The move came as health authorities gained confidence from the country's accelerating vaccination drive.
Currently, the greater Seoul area is under Level 2 distancing in the five-level scheme, while the rest of the country is under Level 1.5. Private gatherings of five or more are banned nationwide.
Under the new four-tier system, restaurants and cafes in the capital area will be permitted to operate until midnight under Level 2, an extension from the current restrictions of 10 p.m.
The nationwide ban on the gathering of five or more people will be lifted under the renewed guidelines, with the ceiling set to be raised to eight under Level 2. No restrictions are applied under Level 1.
In the greater Seoul area, the ceiling will initally be set at six over a two-week transition period.
The country announced the ban on gatherings of five or more people in the greater Seoul area on Dec. 23 last year. The measure was applied to other regions in January.
So far, the country has completed the inoculation of 4.04 million people, or 7.9 percent of the country's 52-million population.
A total of 15 million people, or 29.2 percent, have also received at least their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines.
The country aims to inoculate 36 million, or around 70 percent of the population, with at least one jab by September to achieve herd immunity in November.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 146, down five from the previous day.
Of the newly confirmed locally transmitted cases on Saturday, 152 came from Seoul and 111 from Gyeonggi Province.
Incheon, located 40 kilometers west of Seoul, added 19 cases as well.
The southeastern port city of Busan added 14 new patients, and Daegu, 302km southeast of Seoul, found 15 more cases.
A total of 10 cases were traced to a restaurant in eastern Seoul. A church in western Seoul also reported 34 COVID-19 cases.
A hospital from Busan identified nine additional cases, raising the total caseload to 10.
Over the past two weeks, 25.8 percent of the newly added patients had unknown transmission routes. Cluster infections accounted for 20.7 percent.
The KDCA counted 49 more imported cases, raising the tally to 9,528.
Of the imported cases, Indonesia accounted for 15, followed by Cambodia with five cases.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 142,899, up 514 from a day earlier.
South Korea has carried out 10.3 million COVID-19 tests so far, including 12,480 the previous day. (Yonhap)