SEOUL, Nov. 16 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s new coronavirus cases hovered above 200 for a third consecutive day Monday as cluster infections across the country piled up, prompting health authorities to “seriously” consider raising the country’s social distancing measures by one notch.

The country added 223 more COVID-19 cases, including 193 local infections, raising the total caseload to 28,769, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Daily infections stayed in the triple digits for the ninth consecutive day, with cases exceeding 200 for the first time in 73 days on Saturday.

Health authorities attributed the sharp growth to chains of cluster infections from private gatherings and public facilities across the nation, which made it harder to trace potential cases and curb the spread of the virus.

The government said the recent spread of COVID-19 in various community settings poses serious challenges to antivirus efforts, saying it is considering upping the social distancing scheme from Level 1 to Level 1.5 to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 spread is in a serious stage with continued infections from gatherings of family and friends, and public facilities,” Health Minister Park Neunghoo said in a meeting with senior officials. “We are at a crossroad of adjusting the social distancing scheme.”

Ahead of enforcing tougher social distancing measures, the government on Sunday issued a “preliminary warning” for the greater Seoul area and the eastern province of Gangwon, which reported a rising number of cases over the past week.

Some cities, including Cheonan and Asan in South Chungcheong Province; Wonju in Gangwon Province; and Suncheon, Gwangyang and Yeosu in South Jeolla Province, have already adopted Level 1.5 to cope with rising cases in the regions.

South Korea has kept the Level 1 social distancing scheme under a new five-tier system nationwide since earlier this month, although some cities and provincial governments upped their virus infection preventive measures.

Under Level 1, people are required to follow basic guidelines, such as wearing masks, and gatherings of over 500 people are not recommended.

People are still allowed to carry on with most of their daily routines under Level 1.5, but gatherings of 100 or more people will be regulated, though not completely banned.

Among the locally transmitted cases, the capital city of Seoul accounted for 79 cases, and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul reported 39. Incheon, west of Seoul, had 10 more.

The number of new cases in the greater Seoul area, which houses around half of the nation’s population, surpassed 100 for four days in a row.

Gangwon Province had 20 new patients, followed by North Gyeongsang Province with 13 and South Jeolla Province with 10.

The country added 30 imported cases, with 20 of them being foreign nationals.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 55, slightly down from 56 on Sunday.

The KDCA reported one additional death, raising the total at 494. The fatality rate came to 1.72 percent.

The number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 68, up 55 from the previous day.