South Korean Health Authorities on Friday said this weekend will be a critical juncture in the country’s efforts to stem the further spread of the virus following cluster infections in a nightlife zone in Seoul.
The health authorities noted that more citizens may be exposed to the virus over the weekend.
According to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), 27 new cases of COVID-19 were detected on Thursday, with 22 of them being local infections, bringing the nation’s total number to 11,018.
The KCDC said that of the newly added cases, 17 were connected to bars and clubs in Seoul’s popular nightlife district of Itaewon between April 24 and May 6.
“As of Friday noon, a total of 153 people have tested positive in connection with the Itaewon outbreak.
“Including 90 clubgoers and 63 of their family members, co-workers and contacts, indicating that secondary and tertiary infections from the nightclub cases have already emerged,’’ the KCDC said.
Health authorities are staying vigilant against the community spread of COVID-19 connected to the Itaewon cluster that began early this month, urging those who visited places in the neighbourhood to get virus tests.
“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,” Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said.
Health authorities again urged people to refrain from visiting multiuse facilities and having gatherings this weekend.
South Korea had added no fewer than 15 cases of COVID-19 since mid-April, with the number of domestic infections even falling to zero on some days.
Health authorities said they are still tracking down the whereabouts of some 1,200 clubgoers during the cited period.
KCDC Chief Jeong Eun-kyeong cautioned against additional infections at other cluster facilities such as karaoke rooms, also known as noraebang in Korean.
A chain transmission has been reported at another karaoke room in the north-eastern Seoul ward of Dobong, where an acquaintance of an Itaewon clubber visited.
“There is a possibility that the virus was transmitted through contacts in common areas, such as toilets and resting rooms,’’ she said.
Jeong added that the virus might have spread through tiny droplets in the air, not the air ventilation system.
On May 6, the country switched to “everyday life quarantine” and the normalisation of public facilities and other business establishments, under the condition they follow basic sanitation measures.
However, due to the recent surge in virus cases traced to the Itaewon area, the country has decided to push back the reopening of schools by one week.
The KCDC said that schools would reopen as planned on Wednesday, allowing students to begin physically attending classes.