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South Korea on edge as Itaewon virus transmission hikes

Nightlife industry issued an administrative order to refrain from doing business, effective Friday 8 p.m.

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

A hike in the number of novel coronavirus patients linked to a club-goer in Itaewon, a nightlife district in Seoul, has put many South Koreans and health authorities on edge, officials said Friday.

The club-goer residing in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province is estimated to have come into contact with at least 1,500 people during his roughly four-hour long club hopping on May 2, sparking renewed health concerns over a potential mass infection amid the country’s transition to relaxed “everyday life quarantine” that began this week.

At least 13 people who came into contact with the 29-year-old club-goer have been confirmed with COVID-19 as of Friday. He is believed to be the initial source of infection, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Of the confirmed new patients, one showed to be the club-goer’s colleague and 12 were other club-goers, including three foreign nationals and one solider, health authorities said.

He and other clubbers did not have their masks on during their night out, leading health authorities to project more infections linked to Itaewon to surge in the coming days. So far, 15 people have been infected through the Yongin patient.

“The Yongin patient is not an imported infection, and people he came into contact with those at clubs in Itaewon make up the biggest portion,” KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said during a daily afternoon briefing on the contagion.

“A contact tracing is underway, as some could have been left out. Also the concerned municipality is also conducting contact tracing through a different route. The number of people that have come into contact (with the Yongin patient) is expected to rise continually.”

Jeong went on to urge those whose routes overlap with the Yongin patient to receive virus testing.

With more infections expected to emerge from the Itaewon case, nightclubs, bars and other entertainment businesses in the nightlife industry nationwide have been issued an administrative order instructing them to hold back on opening concerned facilities, effective on Friday at 8 p.m.

Factoring in the new cases tied to Itaewon on top of 12 daily infections, the number of accumulated virus patients came to 10,835, as of Friday, according to the KCDC.

Health authorities also convened an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon, while an epidemiological survey was underway.

Authorities are discussing whether to issue administrative orders among other actions against involved businesses in the popular nightlife district, as the country had observed strict social distancing in early May when various measures to block the virus were mandatory.

Meanwhile, Korea’s death toll from the virus remained at 256 people for two days in a row, the KCDC said.

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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