Covid-19 nightlife clusters: What happened in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea

A street in Seoul on July 12, 2021. Clubs and bars in Seoul were shut a few days after a cluster emerged last year.
A street in Seoul on July 12, 2021. Clubs and bars in Seoul were shut a few days after a cluster emerged last year.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - On Wednesday (July 14), Singapore saw 41 new Covid-19 cases linked to a growing cluster at KTV outlets and nightclubs here.

Commenting on this, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said activities such as hostess services and dice games have been banned for over a year as the authorities had noticed nightlife-related outbreaks overseas.

They often involved hostesses and people mingling in close proximity.

The Straits Times looks at three overseas nightlife outbreaks that led to large clusters.

1. Hong Kong

In November last year, a number of cases were linked to over 20 dance clubs in the city.

The South China Morning Post reported that the cluster surfaced after a 75-year-old businesswoman visited the Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai. She was confirmed as infected on Nov 19.

Entertainment outlets and nightclubs had been allowed to reopen in September that year, following their closure in July.

Hong Kong's dance studios, known as playgrounds for its "tai tais" or ladies of leisure, were later blamed for starting the fourth wave of infections on the island.

A number of prominent people, including former actress Tse Ling Ling, Hong Kong Cable Television owner David Chiu Tat Cheong, and billionaire Rossana Wang Gaw, were linked to the cluster.

In response to the infections, the Hong Kong government made Covid-19 testing compulsory for the first time, but the cluster continued to grow. By January, over 730 were infected.

2. South Korea

In May 2020, a 29-year-old resident of Yongin city tested positive after visiting five gay clubs in the Itaewon district.

The authorities faced difficulties in contacting some of those who had been to the same clubs. More than half of the over 5,500 people who visited the five clubs remained uncontactable nearly a week after the resident tested positive for Covid-19.

City officials had to resort to retrieving data from mobile phone operators as well as deploying thousands of police to track down visitors to the area.

Some experts noted that hostility towards gays had made it difficult for close contacts to be detected. Some club-goers had paid cash to stay anonymous, making them harder to track down, while others simply refused to step forward for testing.

Clubs and bars in Seoul were shut a few days after the cluster emerged. By mid-May, over 35,000 people were tested for the virus in relation to the cluster, with more than 130 testing positive.

3. Taiwan

For most of last year, Taiwan did well against the coronavirus, at one point going 200 days without a single locally transmitted Covid-19 case.

But in May this year, it saw a sudden surge in community transmissions after 16 cases were linked to teahouses in Taipei's red light district in a single day.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je on May 14 called for bars, dance clubs, karaoke lounges, nightclubs, saunas and Internet cafes as well as hostess clubs and teahouses to close in response to the cluster.

Some of the cases involved hostesses and patrons who later visited temples, restaurants and markets in central and southern Taiwan.

As the virus spread across the region, the authorities imposed a Level 3 alert for the first time in New Taipei City, the second-highest level.

People were required to don masks at all times in public and observe social distancing. Indoor gatherings with more than five people and outdoor gatherings with more than 10 were banned, and long queues formed at supermarkets as people rushed to stock up on essentials.