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(2nd LD) Infections linked to Itaewon clubs soar to 119, stoke fears on additional transmission

All News 15:02 May 13, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 2, 5, 10, 13-16, photo; RECASTS lead)
By Lee Minji

SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) -- Seoul saw another spike in infections linked to nightspots in the Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon on Wednesday, bringing the number of cases across the country to 119 and spurring fears over the possibility of a bigger outbreak.

Of the total, infections in Seoul reached 69, up from 61 a day earlier, with 14,121 people having undergone tests for the coronavirus, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a press briefing.

Outside of the capital, 23 were reported in surrounding Gyeonggi Province, followed by 15 in Incheon, five in North Chungcheong Province, four in Busan and one each in North Jeolla Province, South Gyeongsang Province and Jeju, he added.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) earlier said that figures coming from the Itaewon clubs totaled 111 as of midnight. The city's data was tallied as of 10 a.m.

Health authorities have been on the alert after a 29-year-old tested positive following visits to five clubs and bars -- King Club, Trunk, Queen, Soho and H.I.M -- in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district also known for its international community, in early May.

In less than a week, the case quickly swelled into a cluster infection, affecting not only those who had been to Itaewon but also nearly 30 others who were infected through secondary transmission. No tertiary transmission has yet been reported.

Residents queue at a community health center in the Seoul ward of Yongsan on May 12, 2020, to get tested for the coronavirus. (Yonhap)

Such cases include a 25-year-old cram school teacher in Incheon, west of Seoul, who is believed to have spread the virus to eight middle and high school students, and a teen in Seoul who tested positive after visiting a karaoke bar that an Itaewon clubber had visited.

Park urged people who visited Itaewon in the affected period to come forward and get tested.

"(Containing) contagious diseases is a matter of speed. Voluntary screening is more important than anything. Please get checked immediately if you visited clubs in Itaewon between April 24 and May 6," the mayor said.

The city has also been attempting to track down possible patients through credit card transactions, closed-circuit TV footage and mobile access records after entry logs at some clubs turned out to carry false information.

Park said Wednesday that the city has secured a list of 10,905 people believed to have been in the area during the cited period based on data provided by mobile operators.

The city sent text messages urging them to self-isolate and get tested regardless of symptoms, including English-language texts sent to around 1,210 foreign nationals.

Volunteer workers disinfect a street in Itaewon located in the central Seoul ward of Yongsan on May 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

Officials at the city government and the ward office of Yongsan, meanwhile, said they plan to expand checks into visitors at four other Itaewon venues -- Made, Pink Elephant, Pistil and the Fountain -- where infections were reported.

The Yongsang ward office said it has wrapped up its initial probe into 5,517 people who had visited the five affected clubs, adding that it has reached 1,289 of the nearly 2,000 people who were unaccounted for.

A list of people who are still unavailable has been sent to the police for further probe, it said.

The city stressed that the club-related tests are conducted for free and that visitors who are concerned about reporting their personal details can receive anonymous testing.

As of Tuesday, a dozen municipal governments across the country, including Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi Province, have imposed or planned to impose an administrative order suspending business at nightlife facilities to prevent further transmission.


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