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CORRECTED-S.Korea on alert over holidays despite slight drop in COVID-19 cases

(Corrects new infections in paragraph 2 to 38, not 39)

SEOUL, Sept 29 (Reuters) - South Korea appealed on Tuesday for strict social distancing, despite a slight fall in the number of new coronavirus cases, with millions of people set to travel for a major holiday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 38 new infections by midnight on Monday, for a fifth day of double-digit increases, taking the national tally to 23,699 cases, with 407 deaths.

The numbers came a day after the daily tally fell to its lowest since new virus clusters emerged last month at a church and a major political rally, leading to more than 1,800 infections.

Health authorities pleaded for people to stay home and refrain from gatherings ahead of the Korean thanksgiving holiday of Chuseok, which begins on Wednesday, although millions are still expected to travel across the country.

“We request you to be aware that the Chuseok holidays must not ignite another nationwide spread of COVID-19 and to act accordingly,” Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae told a meeting.

“Keeping distancing rules and wearing masks is the safest way to protect you, your family and society.”

The government eased some social distancing rules after the rate of infections slowed this month but imposed special measures for the holiday, including banning dining at motorway rest areas and nursing home visits and requiring temperature checks at all stations.

Kang also warned of strict punishment against anyone who takes part in a political rally. Authorities have said they have banned some 137 demonstrations.

Polls have shown mixed forecasts about travel.

More than 78% of Koreans said they planned to stay at home for the holiday in a survey conducted over the weekend by the Korea Society Opinion Institute.

But airport authorities said on Sunday the number of people taking domestic flights would drop by 25% compared with last year. (Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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