The health authorities renewed calls Tuesday for people who visited five Itaewon clubs between late April and early May to come forward for voluntary testing as officials struggle to trace those possibly infected with COVID-19 and others who could be asymptomatic carriers.
“Once more we want to emphasize that if you went to an area visited by a confirmed patient, please, stay home, report to the authorities and get yourself tested. This is crucial in containing the spread of the virus,” Kwon Joon-wook, the official handling the government’s quarantine efforts, said during a daily briefing.
On the same day, education offices sent letters to schools across the country encouraging staff there, especially native-speaking English teachers, to get COVID-19 tests, saying, “We will guarantee anonymity.” Some of the confirmed patients are school teachers.
Revealing the identities of those who went to the five clubs has become a sensitive issue as one of them is a bar popular among the gay community. People who’ve been to the bar, whether they are homosexual or not, have expressed concern about potential discrimination.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it sent text messages to 10,905 residents after obtaining data from mobile phone operators and Seoul Police Office that showed they had used their phones in Itaewon between midnight April 24 to 5 p.m. May 6. So far, the local government has found 64 cases linked to the five bars.
Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myeong also called on people who’d visited to Itaewon to be tested for the coronavirus.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), 27 new infections were reported nationwide Monday, bringing the country’s total to 10,936.
Among the 27, 20 were related to the Itaewon clubs. A total of 102 infections have been traced to the bars as of Tuesday afternoon.
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Hong Seok-cheon, an actor, TV personality and a businessman who came out as gay in 2000, urged sexual minorities to actively comply with the health authorities in a tweet Tuesday.
“I understand the concerns sexual minorities have about having their identities made public,” he tweeted. “But, now is the time to put together your courage because it can damage your, your family’s and citizens’ health.”
In addition, seven sexual minorities’ rights groups issued a joint statement the same day calling on the government to offer support for them.
“Discrimination and violence at home and work will be inevitable if we get confirmed or are told to self-quarantine. We need to know how the government will protect us in these situations,” the rights groups’ representatives said during a press conference in Seoul.
The KCDC said two new case involved clubbers in Itaewon who had not interacted with the first patient linked to the five clubs. It noted that this could mean a wider spread of the pandemic across the country, adding that a separate epidemiological study was being conducted.
The initial infection in Itaewon was reported May 6 when a 29-year-old man from Yongin, Gyeonggi Province tested positive for COVID-19 after visiting five night clubs in the area between late May 1 and early May 2.
The new outbreak poses a threat to the government’s attempts to ease social distancing and get the domestic economy restarted. The education authorities have pushed back the reopening of schools by a further week to May 20 out of concern that students could be infected.
Source: The Korea Times