South Korea’s daily count of coronavirus cases topped 800 on Thursday, the highest in nearly six months, due to new cluster infections and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, officials said on Friday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 826 cases, up from 762 a day before and the highest since Jan. 7 when the country was grappling with a third wave of COVID-19.

Almost 81% of the 765 locally transmitted cases came from the capital Seoul and its surrounding regions, KCDA data showed.

The government had said it would relax social distancing measures starting this month as daily new cases hovered around 500 and the vaccination drive accelerated.

But days before the limits on movement were to be eased, case numbers shot up and authorities in Seoul and surrounding areas extended restrictions for another week to July 7.

A music festival at Olympic Park in Seoul on June 26. Attendees were required to required to test themselves for COVID-19 before entry. | AFP-JIJI
A music festival at Olympic Park in Seoul on June 26. Attendees were required to required to test themselves for COVID-19 before entry. | AFP-JIJI

“More than 80% of new cases have come from the Seoul metropolitan area for a third straight day on the back of cluster infections from restaurants and private educational institutions,” Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol told an intra-agency COVID-19 meeting.

“We’re extremely concerned the virus would spread further as there are clear signs of increased outside activity among the people, and a rising number of cases of the strongly transmissible delta variant.”

Authorities have urged people to keep wearing masks indoors and refrain from unnecessary outings even as the inoculation drive makes progress.

Authorities are particularly concerned about a new outbreak traced to an English language academy just outside the capital, with at least 242 cases including the delta variant confirmed so far.

“We have concerns that outbreaks could increase explosively if distancing is relaxed, as there would be more people-to-people contact through drinking or exposure at various public facilities,” KDCA director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing on Thursday.

The delta variant first detected in India has led to spikes in cases around the globe, becoming the second-most prevalent variant in the United States and prompting Britain to delay its reopening by one month.

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