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(6th LD) Coronavirus cases linked to Itaewon clubs rise to 54

All News 21:42 May 10, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS education minister's remarks, details in paras 16-18)
By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- Coronavirus cases linked to clubs and bars in Seoul's multicultural district of Itaewon have jumped to 54, an official said Sunday, as South Korea struggles to stop the cluster infection from spreading further.

The hike deepened fears that Itaewon-related infections could get out of control and lead to a nationwide transmission after the country had successfully brought the virus outbreak under control with zero local infections reported on many days in recent weeks.

The Itaewon infections began when a 29-year-old man tested positive on May 6 after visiting five clubs, including King Club, Trunk Club and Club Queen, between the night of May 1 and wee hours of May 2. More than 1,500 people were believed to have visited those clubs and bars on that night.

Of the 54 Itaewon-linked cases, 43 visited clubs and 11 others are either their family members or acquaintances of the clubbers, according to Jeong Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

She said an investigation is under way into those who had contact with the 54 people.

The cluster infection has showed signs of spreading.

Of the total 54 cases, 30 came in Seoul; 14 in Gyeonggi Province; six in Incheon, west of Seoul; two in North Chungcheong Province; and one each in the southeastern city of Busan and the southern island of Jeju.

Earlier in the day, the KCDC reported that 34 new cases were confirmed in South Korea on Saturday, the biggest single-day spike since April 9, due mainly to the Itaewon cluster infection. The new cases brought the country's total to 10,874.

The number of daily infections had remained below 30 after falling to 32 on April 12.

The death toll remained unchanged at 256 as of midnight Saturday.

Of the 34 cases confirmed Saturday, 24 were linked to Itaewon, and an additional 11 new cases were confirmed Sunday in connection with Itaewon, Jeong said.

Crowds of people walk around the Seomyeon district of downtown Busan, South Korea's second-largest city, on May 9, 2020. (Yonhap)

Although infections linked to clubgoers are on a steady rise, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters that the government may go ahead with its plan to gradually reopen schools from this week.

"It is difficult to make a decision on whether to delay the school reopening process," Park said, citing the early stage of investigation into Itaewon-related infections.

However, Park said the government will make a decision as soon as possible after closely monitoring the severity of the Itaewon-linked infections.

Schools across the country are set to reopen starting Wednesday after being closed for the past few months as part of precautionary measures against the coronavirus.

The reopening is scheduled to be carried out in phases for added safety, starting with high school seniors Wednesday and ending with grade one of middle school and grades five and six of elementary school on June 1.

In a Facebook post on Sunday evening, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said the education ministry has considered several possibilities regarding the plan to reopen schools.

"There is no change in our principle that keeping students safe is a top priority," Yoon said.

The education ministry may make a decision on whether to go ahead with the plan to reopen schools before Tuesday, a ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun instructed officials to find an estimated 1,510 people who visited clubs in Itaewon last week and test them for the novel coronavirus.

Jeong said the number of visitors to the clubs from late April to Wednesday could be up to 7,000.

Seoul's Yongsan Ward Office, which has jurisdiction over Itaewon, said it could not get hold of 1,982 out of 5,517 people who signed entry logs at the five clubs. The office said the number of people listed in the entry logs reached 7,222, but 1,705 people overlapped.

The KCDC has urged visitors of those clubs to take tests for the virus and 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.

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

entropy@yna.co.kr
(END)

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