A new cluster of coronavirus cases linked to a party district in Seoul has caused the reinstatement of social distancing measures in the capital and raised fears of a new wave of cases in South Korea.
Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, effectively shut down the city’s bars and nightclubs with an order banning them from hosting crowds.
“Neglect can lead to an explosion of infections – we clearly saw this through the group infections seen in the case of Club Itaewon,” said Park.
Officials attributed the new cluster to at least one person who visited several clubs and bars in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon last week, potentially potentially contacting up to 1,500 other partygoers.
The case is a blow to the government of South Korea, which has won international praise for mass testing, high-tech contact tracing and social distancing to combat what has been, for some time, the worst epidemic outside of China.
Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious diseases at Guro University Hospital in Korea, said the government was too eager to kick-start the economy.
“A more gradual approach was needed, starting with opening low-risk facilities first, but we reopened even the high-risk places at the same time, although we knew that bars and clubs – where many people congregate and the air circulation is not efficient – fertile ground for viral infection, “he said.
Health officials in South Korea reported 34 new cases on Sunday, most of which were transmitted locally, a big increase from last week when the country had no local infections for several days.
Authorities are prepared for a further increase in infections due to difficulties in finding contacts in the region. Despite the requirement for entry registers at many establishments, officials found that most of Itaewon’s clubs and bars were inaccurate, raising concerns about containing the epidemic.
“I’m so worried about a jump in new cases. . . I’m canceling or postponing the meeting with my friends, “said Yoon Ah-eurm, a waitress at an Itaewon cafe.
Kim warned that the epidemic could be “the start of a second wave of infections.”
“The problem is that about two-thirds of the people who have visited the clubs are out of reach now. It is difficult to trace them because they do not want to move forward due to confidentiality issues, ”he said.
Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea, warned on Sunday that if the country’s handling of the virus was a source of national “pride”, there would be “protracted war”.
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” The [latest] infection cluster. . . made it clear that even during the stabilization phase, similar situations can recur at any time, anywhere in an enclosed and overcrowded space. It’s not over until it’s over, ”he said.
The South Korean government has already increased spending on viruses to around $ 200 billion, more than 10% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Despite this, Moon warned of “colossal” economic damage.
“The contraction in the service industry, which started in tourism and travel and food and accommodation, is turning into a crisis in the manufacturing industry,” he said.
In response, Moon announced a “Korean version” of the New Depression era New Deal, promising to boost job growth through increased spending on technology and infrastructure, as well as by expanding ‘Employment Insurance.