Korean public health authorities are now doing their utmost to find and test about 1,900 people who visited clubs in Itaewon, Seoul, last week, having already confirmed 40 infections by a 29-year-old man there.
Seventeen out of 18 new Covid-19 cases reported as of midnight Friday were local infections associated with the person who visited clubs and bars in the multicultural neighborhood and tourist destination in the capital city last weekend. The other one was an imported case.
Officials said, however, the number of people infected by the “silent spreader” has reached 40 throughout the country, as of Saturday afternoon.
At a daily coronavirus task force meeting, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said that the nation is put to the test and the success or failure of quarantine depends on whether the health authorities can stop cluster infections spread from Itaewon. “It seems that community spread occurred from a silent spreader who visited nightlife spots during the long holiday from April 30 to May 5,” Chung said.
Chung called for the health authorities and local governments to mobilize all means to trace about 1,900 people who were at the clubs in Itaewon at the same time with the possible super-spreader and test them. He told officials to keep the clubbers’ names and other personal information classified so that they can voluntarily take the test.
Commenting on Friday’s administrative order on the entertainment places to refrain from their operation, Chung said that it was an inevitable step ahead of the weekend because asymptomatic patients can visit clubs or bars again.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government went one step further later in the day, however, as Mayor Park Won-soon banned all entertainment spots in the capital city to shut down business indefinitely.
“Right now, the city is issuing an order to ban gathering at all clubs, bars, room salons, and other entertainment establishments,” Park said emerging from an emergency meeting at the City Hall. “From this moment, all related facilities should suspend operation. If these places violate this order, they will be subject to stern punishment.” Park said there is no schedule to lift the ban, adding that any withdrawal will be through a separate order later.
Mayor Park said there are already 40 confirmed cases related to the Itaewon clubs -- 27 in Seoul, seven in Gyeonggi Province, five in Incheon, and one in Busan. “We have made phone calls to all of the 1,936 people on the clubs’ client lists but could talk with only 637 of them while failing to reach 1,309 others,” Park said. “We will use all means to trace these people and make them take the tests.”
Eased restrictions or everyday life quarantine does not mean Koreans can go back to pre-coronavirus days, Park said.
Korea’s total number of confirmed cases has increased to 10,840 as of midnight Friday. The nation had managed to contain new virus cases to below 20 for 22 days since April 18. It reported zero death because of Covid-19 for two days, and the death toll remained at 256. The fatality rate is 2.37 percent. Hospitals have discharged an additional 84 patients, raising the total to 9,586.
The renewed community spread, however, has raised public concerns about massive cluster infections especially concerning the long-overdue start of a new school year scheduled for May 13 for high school seniors and between May 20 and June 1 for other students.
Asked about the matter during a regular briefing, however, Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip said, “It will be too hasty to shelve the scheduled opening of schools.”
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