SEOUL (Reuters): South Korea on Wednesday (April 7) reported 668 new coronavirus cases for Tuesday, the highest daily count since Jan 8 amid a rise in cluster infections, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
The new cases bring the country's total infections to 106,898, with 1,756 deaths, with the latest surge centered around clusters in kindergartens, saunas, bars and churches.
Over 63% of new cases were found in Seoul and neighbouring regions, including Gyeonggi province, KDCA data showed.
Authorities said they would expand testing efforts to trace transmission nationwide through epidemiological surveys and preemptive testing.
"If the fourth wave of infections becomes a reality, a disruption to vaccination would be inevitable, as well as dealing a big blow to our economy," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting on Wednesday.
"The government is maximising efforts to prevent the fourth wave by mobilising all means possible," he said.
Health officials called on the public to refrain from non-essential gatherings and strictly log visits to crowded venues, such as restaurants, cafes and karaoke bars to facilitate epidemiological work in case of any outbreak.
South Korea is well-equipped with medical resources and enough hospital beds to cover up to 1,000 daily confirmed cases over a 20-day period, Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, told a briefing.
"Yet once the fourth wave takes off, there is a possibility the number of patients will spike, so we will continue to secure more beds and take regional measures," said Yoon.
Health authorities also said they will announce new social distancing rules on Friday after discussion with experts and local governments.
The country has so far administered over a million doses of vaccine among medical workers and high-risk groups since the start of its inoculation drive in February, yet authorities face a backlash for relying on the global vaccine-sharing programme Covax, which has run into delays.