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Govt. urges citizens to avoid gatherings over the weekend


The South Korean government urged citizens to refrain from gatherings and access to enclosed facilities over the weekend in the wake of a growing number of infection cases as a virus breakout at clubs and bars in a popular Seoul nightlife area is spreading.

Health authorities are on alert as COVID-19 is penetrating deeper into the country after Seoul’s Itaewon emerged as a new cluster early this month, generating secondary and tertiary infections.

“The number of infection cases are growing because of close contacts made in bars, karaoke facilities and private educational institutes with those infected linked to (Itaewon) clubs,” Jung Eun-kyeong, director at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing on Friday.

Starting from May 6, the country lifted its six-week social distancing measures and introduced relaxed recommendations called “routine distancing,” in the hope of bringing daily life back to normalcy.

But its plan faced a setback with the emergence of the Itaewon cluster and infection cases have grown back to double-digit levels after reporting zero cases at some point.

She advised people to practice the government’s guidelines when using enclosed spaces such as indoor sports establishments and movie theaters while asked those in charge of disinfection of facilities and business to be vigilant on implementing containment rules tailored to each site.

According to the government-issued routine distancing rules, concert halls and movie theaters should block out every other seat. Wearing masks during the running time is recommended for the audience.

The number of COVID-19 cases traced to nightclubs and bars in Seoul’s popular party spot Itaewon increased by 20 to 153 as of noon Friday.

Those aged between 19 and 29 accounted for 60.8 percent, or 93 people, out of the 153 cases, which include clubgoers and their colleagues, friends, family members and neighbors who contracted the virus. Those in their 30s and under 18 were 27 and 15, respectively.

Metropolitan areas take up the lion’s share with cases reported in Seoul standing at 87, followed by Gyeonggi Province with 26 and Incheon with 22.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said that a slew of secondary and tertiary infections have been reported across the country. “We expect to witness small-sized cluster infection cases down the road.”

On Friday, infection of a prison officer at the Seoul Detention Center has led the Seoul Western District Court to hold off its planned trials which were set to be attended by prisoners from the facility.

The 28-year-old officer, living in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, tested positive on Friday after having close contract with a friend with the virus.

He was found to have contacted 277 people, including 254 prisoners and 23 co-workers when he went to his workplace early this week. The Seoul Detention Center put the people in isolation and disinfected the facility.

Kim urged citizens to actively cooperate in testing and epidemiological investigation to prevent the virus to spread further.

The current COVID-19 containment management system could face hurdles to maintain if the pace of detection of those infected slows down due to incorrect statements from people who have been exposed to the virus.

Anonymous test is also available for unqualified foreigners staying here if they have visited Itaewon sites or suspected to have contracted the virus, he added.

Exemplifying two churches in Incheon that reported no infection after conducting tests on 740 members following visits by two people who tested positive, Kim stressed the importance of keeping disinfection rules.

The churches mandated service attendees to wear protective masks and get their temperature checked before entry and keep distance when seated.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said Friday thorough compliance with sanitation rules in daily life coupled with immediate voluntary reporting of suspected COVID-19 case will eventually lead the country to victory in this prolonged battle.

To prepare for potential virus resurgence, the government will map out measures for early detection of the virus at facilities for high-risk groups such as nursing homes and mental hospitals, which were hit hard by the virus in a time of rampant community transmission in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province in March, Park added.

By Park Han-na (