By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea has recorded 731 new coronavirus cases, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Wednesday, as the country battles to stem the number of infections with more testing and vaccination efforts.
New cases are centered on the greater Seoul area and have spread to over a dozen city and provinces despite rigid social distancing rules.
The latest cases on Tuesday bring the total to 111,419 infections, with 1,782 deaths.
Health authorities said they were better prepared for the next wave of infections with enough sickbeds and medical resources, yet warned of complacency, citing a 15% increase in recent nationwide weekend travels.
“If the medical response comes to a breaking point, we will be in a situation where there is no other choice but to take the social distancing to a more groundbreaking step,” Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, told a briefing. “But it is the responsibility and goal of health authorities to not go there.”
Health authorities said on Tuesday they would consider the use of COVID-19 self-test kits despite their relatively low accuracy amid fears of a potential fourth wave of outbreaks.
South Korea has rolled out around 45,000 negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests a day earlier.
South Korea has given a first dose of AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to near 1.24 million, and over 60,000 have taken booster shots as of Tuesday, the KDCA data said.
Additional 250,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have arrived on Wednesday, adding to the million doses that have been shipped earlier in March, for people aged 75 and older and high-risk groups in nursing homes.
The government has secured enough COVID-19 vaccines to cover 79 million people, for more than its 52 million population, including those from Novavax, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme.
A South Korean health official said the country still planned to import coronavirus vaccines from J&J, despite a recent decision of the U.S. health agencies recommending a pause on use of the single-dose shot after reports of rare blood clots from one shot.
South Korea’s food and drug ministry this week has begun a review of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine after the U.S. pharmaceutical company submitted an application for approval on Monday.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Michael Perry)