Korea reported 29 new Covid-19 patients, including 26 local cases, on Thursday, as cluster infections from bars and clubs in Seoul showed few signs of decline, keeping the health authorities jittery on more community spread.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has conducted more than 35,000 tests related to the cluster infections in Itaewon. However, the health officials believe there are far more linked to the outbreak that happened in Seoul's popular multicultural neighborhood during the recent long holiday.
"The tension caused by the Itaewon cluster infections goes on," Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip said. "We all know from experiences what could happen by just one or two persons hesitating to take the test."
To induce more visitors to the quarter to receive the Covid-19 test, the quarantine officials have expanded anonymity inspections across the country to avoid a controversy over the unnecessary infringement on privacy. The government also plans to implement new guidelines to prevent excessive disclosure of the patients’ moving routes and make it easier for those involved to come out.
"Especially, people who work at places frequented by many people, such as educational, religious, indoor sports facilities, and have a very high risk of spreading infection, are urged to report and receive diagnostic tests," Kim said.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it has seen the benefits of the anonymous test.
According to Mayor Park Won-soon, more than 24,000 people connected with the recent outbreak in Itaewon have taken tests for COVID-19, after the city’s adoption of “no question asked” tests.
"The number of accumulated tests related to the Itaewon outbreak has reached 24,082 so far," Park said in an interview with TBS radio. "The anonymous tests are showing effects as the number has jumped eightfold on average since its introduction."
Park also stressed that the city's goal is to conduct tests on everyone who visited the bars and clubs in question and warned that people who do not comply with the city's testing order could face a fine of up to 2 million won ($1,629).
An instructor at a private educational institution in Incheon has also come under fire by hiding his visit to one of the Itaewon clubs and infecting 14 people, including his students and their family members, in what officials fear as the cases of secondary and even tertiary infections.
That and other community spreads are adding to the concerns of parents in the run-up to the scheduled opening of a new school year next week, causing calls for further delays.
The 29 new Covid-19 cases brought the total to 10,991, the KCDC said. Itaewon-related infections have reached 136 in total, including 76 in Seoul, as of 4 p.m. on Thursday. The death toll also inched up to 260, as one more patient has died as of midnight Wednesday. Medical institutions discharged an additional 67 recovered people, increasing the total of cured patients to 9,762. So far, the nation tested 711,484 people for Covid-19.
With the resurgence of the virus worldwide, meanwhile, the World Health Organization has warned countries against easing restrictions with its deputy head making an ominous prediction that it “might never go away and populations around the world will have to learn to live with it.”
"We have a new virus entering the human population for the first time, and therefore it is tough to predict when we will prevail over it," WHO Deputy Director Michael Ryan said. "This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, like HIV, and this virus may never go away."
European countries with high economic dependence on tourism have begun to open borders as summer vacation approaches. However, the WHO warned there was no way to guarantee that easing the restrictions would not trigger a second wave of infections.
"Through a systematic risk assessment process, we will be able to reduce alert levels at national, regional, and global levels," Ryan said. "However, we believe, as of now, the risk is still high."
Ryan reiterated that he believes that the globe still has a long way to go before controlling the virus.
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