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(4th LD) S. Korea braces for possible spread of virus by clubbers

All News 15:07 May 09, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with details; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, May 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is on alert Saturday as more than a dozen people infected with the coronavirus from clubs in Seoul could spread the virus across the country amid eased social distancing.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 17 out of 18 new COVID-19 cases are linked to a person who visited clubs and bars in Seoul's popular multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon last weekend.

The 29-year-old patient, whom health authorities consider to be the first patient in the cluster infection, visited five clubs and bars in Itaewon from the night of May 1 to the early hours of the following morning.

Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said the health authorities are in the process of identifying people who visited the clubs, and family members and acquaintances of those who have been infected with the virus from the clubs, to make sure the virus does not spread in local communities.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun instructed officials to find those who visited clubs in Itaewon last week and test them for the novel coronavirus.

He also told officials to ensure that the clubbers, estimated to be 1,510 people, can receive tests while keeping their names and other personal information confidential in a move to encourage them not to go into hiding.

The KCDC has urged visitors of those clubs to self-isolate to limit the possible spread of the virus.

Also Saturday, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon imposed an administrative order to effectively suspend business at clubs, bars and other nightlife establishments in the capital city.

The precautionary measure will remain in place until further notice, without specifying a date.

On Saturday, South Korea reported 18 more cases, raising the country's total to 10,840. The nation's death toll remained unchanged at 256, according to the KCDC.

Chung said South Korea's quarantine success or failure will depend on whether the country can stop a further spread of infections linked to the clubs in Seoul.

On Friday, the government recommended that clubs and bars suspend their businesses until June 7 and ordered them to follow thorough quarantine measures in case they keep their businesses open.

Kim said the authorities can impose a fine of up to 3 million won (US$2,500) on clubs and bars that fail to implement quarantine measures.

The authorities can also file a lawsuit seeking compensation against clubs and bars in case visitors are infected with the virus.

South Korea shifted to a relaxed, everyday form of social distancing earlier this week, allowing people to resume outdoor activities and public events, including holding spectator-free professional sports games and religious services.


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