South Korea on Sunday reported the smallest rise in coronavirus infections in three weeks, remaining under 200 for a fourth consecutive day as tighter restrictions cap a second wave.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 167 cases of the new coronavirus for the 24 hours through midnight on Saturday, down from 168 the previous day.
That brings the country's total infections to 21,177 with 334 Covid-19 deaths. Success in crushing early outbreaks was partially reversed after a wave infections among members of a church spread when they attended a political rally in mid-August.
Daily infections have hovered below 200 for four days after peaking at 441 in late August, as tougher social distancing curbs have taken effect.
The measures have included unprecedented restrictions on eateries in the Seoul area, where the spread is concentrated, banning onsite dining after 9 p.m. and limiting coffee and bakery franchises to takeout and delivery all day.
The government on Friday extended the curbs until Sept. 13, saying more time is needed to induce sharper drops in new infections.
"With stricter social distancing rules, new coronavirus cases have continued to drift down and we expect to see drops in new cases," Sohn Young-rae, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, said in a briefing.
Sohn urged people to continue to follow social distancing guidelines for another week by refraining from going outside and having meetings to further curb the outbreak.
Health authorities recommended that people should not return to their hometowns or visit relatives for the Chuseok holiday, Korea's Thanksgiving holiday and one of the country's largest, which starts at the end of September and lasts until early October.
Health authorities said they are not planning on restricting people from going to their hometowns during the holiday.
South Korea's efforts to fight the coronavirus have been complicated by a strike of 16,000 interns and resident doctors who oppose the government's plans to reform the medical sector to better handle future epidemics.
The country's top medical body agreed on Friday with the government to end the walkout, only to face an immediate backlash from trainee doctors who rejected the deal and continued the strike.
The trainee physicians are likely to return to work on Monday, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday.
The South Korean government and the ruling Democratic party on Sunday agreed to pursue a fourth supplementary budget worth more than 7 trillion won ($5.90 billion), most of which would be funded by treasury bonds, a Democratic party spokesperson said in a statement.
The party plans to submit the budget plan to parliament this week for implementation before the Chuseok holiday in order to provide emergency support for people impacted by the coronavirus.