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(2nd LD) S. Korea struggles to contain more club-linked virus cases

All News 11:36 May 12, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS more info throughout)

SEOUL, May 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is again raising its guard against a cluster infection linked to clubs and bars in Seoul as related confirmed cases have been reported across the country and many potentially infected people remain out of contact, health authorities said Tuesday.

The country reported 27 more cases of the new coronavirus on Monday, with 22 of them local cases, bringing the nation's total infections to 10,936, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The number of virus cases connected to bars and clubs in Seoul's popular nightlife district of Itaewon climbed to 93 on Monday, up 21 from a day earlier, amid growing concerns over a high risk of community spread.

The country had been adding fewer than 15 cases of COVID-19 since mid-April, with the number of domestic infections even falling to zero at some points, before rebounding to 18 and 34 cases over the weekend to reach 35 on Monday.

A quarantine official sprays disinfectant at a fitness center in Itaewon, an international district in southwestern Seoul, on May 11, 2020, as dozens of new coronavirus cases took place at entertainment places in the area the previous week. (Yonhap)

The hike came after a man in his 20's who tested positive for COVID-19 visited clubs and bars in Itaewon on May 1. More than 1,500 people were believed to have visited those places during the time with the virus patient.

The KCDC said it conducted tests on more than 12,000 people on Monday, with some 7,000 of those linked to the Itaewon cluster infection.

Health authorities said earlier they have secured the names of more than 5,000 people who visited the affected facilities and gotten in touch with some 2,000 of them so far.

"Our goal is to make sure that Itaewon case does not lead to mass community infection cases," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, said in a briefing, adding that health authorities will use credit card and smartphone information to get in touch with the visitors.

After keeping local infections at zero for a few days, South Korea saw an unexpected spike in cases coming from entertainment facilities in the area, with infections reported not only in Seoul but across the country.

Seoul, the most populous city, imposed an administrative order to effectively suspend business at clubs, bars and other nightlife establishments Saturday. The precautionary measure will remain in place until further notice, without specifying a date.

Imported cases, which were the biggest threat for South Korea's quarantine operations over recent days, are now less of a concern. But the country still added five such cases Monday.

South Korea gave the go-ahead to the normalization of public facilities and other business establishments under the condition that they start following basic sanitation measures Wednesday. Schools will also open in phases soon.

The country vowed to maintain most of the eased regulations despite the new cluster infections for the time being, although it plans to apply tougher restrictions on entertainment facilities.

Shown here is the main office of LG Uplus Corp., a South Korean mobile carrier, which went into a three-day shutdown on May 11, 2020, as one of its employees tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after visiting a club in the international district of Itaewon in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The country added two more deaths with its death toll at 256, the KCDC said.

In total, 9,670 people in South Korea have recovered from the virus, up 38 from a day earlier.

The mortality rate of COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older stood at 25.36 percent as of Monday, compared with an average mortality rate of 2.36 percent.

The mortality rate of COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older was a mere 3.7 percent on March 2 when health authorities began tracking the figure, but increased to 10 percent on March 20 and breached the 20 percent level in early April, the KCDC said.

The country has carried out tests on 668,890 people since Jan. 3, including 5,408 from a day earlier.


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