South Korea weighs more virus curbs as daily infections surge

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SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea reported 700 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its highest daily tally since early January, and the prime minister reiterated warnings that new social distancing rules would likely be needed.

The new figure compares with an average of 477 cases a day last week, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and will fuel fears the country may be facing a fourth wave of infections.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting a new wave could disrupt South Korea’s vaccination programme, which has been suffering delays as the international vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX struggles to provide promised doses on time.

South Korea said on Wednesday it would suspend providing AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to people below the age of 60 as the shot undergoes reviews in Europe.

Authorities will decide whether to resume vaccinations with the AstraZeneca shots for people under 60 this weekend, Kim Ki-nam, head of a vaccination task force, told a briefing.

South Korea approved a Johnson & Johnson shot in a bid to speed up its inoculation rollout.

Officials have said a new round of restrictions are likely to be announced by Friday. South Korea currently limits private gatherings of more than four people.

South Korea has to date reported 107,598 infections in total, with 1,758 deaths.

Over a million South Koreans have received a first shot of a coronavirus vaccine since February.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Robert Birsel