South Korea reported its first drop below 200 new coronavirus cases in more than two weeks on Thursday, but the country's strained hospitals were treating more seriously ill patients after the prolonged recent surge in infections.
Thursday's increase of 195 new cases, the first daily increase below 200 in 17 days, indicated the country was beginning to see the effects of stringent social distancing restrictions recently imposed in the greater capital area to slow the viral resurgence.
However, the number of patients in serious or critical condition with active COVID-19 increased to 154, compared to 14 on Aug. 14 when the country began what's now a 21-day run in triple-digit daily jumps in infections.
The country has added more than 5,800 newly ill people to its caseload during the streak, raising fears about overwhelmed hospitals.
South Korea's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said 149 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country's 51 million population, where health workers have struggled to trace transmissions.
Since Sunday, restaurants in the Seoul area have been required to provide only deliveries and takeout meals after 9 pm, while fitness centres and after-school academies were ordered to close to slow the spread of the virus.
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