Seoul closes down bars and clubs in wake of new coronavirus cluster

The total number of cases linked to nightclubs in Itaewon in Seoul increased to 40. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (XINHUA, REUTERS) - The city government of South Korea's capital Seoul on Saturday (May 9) ordered clubs and bars to shut, amid fears of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections after confirmed cases suddenly increased after a lull, with the rise tied to nightclubs in the city.

A cluster infection of Covid-19 has been detected in the popular multicultural neighbourhood of Itaewon.

Seoul mayor Park Won-soon told a press briefing that an administrative order was immediately issued to ban all entertainment spots, such as clubs, bars and room salons, from hosting crowds of people.

Mr Park said the relevant facilities must stop business immediately or face strict punishment. The order would remain effective until further notice.

"Carelessness can lead to an explosion in infections - we clearly realised this through the group infections seen in the Itaewon club case," he added.

The order came after a cluster was detected and traced to a 29-year-old man who visited clubs and bars at Itaewon in Seoul last weekend.

The man, who lives in Yongin city, Gyeonggi province, south-east of Seoul, travelled to Seoul with three friends on Thursday two weeks ago (April 30). He went club-hopping with one of them in the capital the following night. They visited a total of five clubs and bars in Itaewon.

He tested positive for the virus on Wednesday (May 6). The friend who went clubbing with him, a 31-year-old resident of Anyang city, has also tested positive.

Mayor Park said a total of 27 Seoul residents traceable to the Itaewon cluster were confirmed positive for the coronavirus as of midday Saturday (May 9).

The number of confirmed cases linked to the Itaewon cluster was 40 across the country.

Over 1,900 people were estimated to have visited the clubs and bars, which the Yongin patient had visited, but around 1,300 people could not be reached.

In the latest tally, South Korea reported 18 new cases for the past 24 hours, with 17 of those linked to the 29-year-old clubber, Yonhap news agency reported.

Saturday's cases raised the total number of infections in South Korea to 10,840.

There are concerns that the daily caseload will surge in the next days because of the cluster infection.

Officials have urged people who visited the Itaewon clubs and bars, including King Club, Trunk Club and Club Queen, between April 29 and May 6 to go for screening tests and refrain from going outside to prevent further transmissions.

"These venues have all the dangerous conditions that we were the most concerned about," Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) director Jeong Eun-kyeong said on Friday, referring to crowding and ventilation issues.

All entertainment facilities currently have to conform to rules such as mandatory wearing of face masks by all customers, maintaining at least 1m distance between people and registering the names of everyone who visits.

Health Ministry spokesman Son Young-rae said at an online briefing on Thursday that a second wave is "inevitable" given the extent of the pandemic across the world.

Responding to a question on how prepared South Korea is for another outbreak, Mr Son had said the country's surveillance system and screening capability would be able to identify a potential spread linked to a confirmed case almost immediately.

"A second outbreak will be inevitable at some point but it will not be like the first wave that saw an explosive surge," said Mr Son. "Given our social distancing policy, the outbreak will be contained in much smaller clusters. The speed of infection will also be slower."

The country began easing its social distancing campaign last week and announced that schools will start reopening on May 13.

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