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New South Korea coronavirus cluster linked to reopened nightclubs delays reopening of schools

New virus cases in Asia spur resurgence fears

Seoul — South Korea has scrapped plans to start reopening schools this week after a cluster of new coronavirus cases emerged in the capital Seoul. The 86 confirmed new cases prompted officials to delay the resumption of classes for high school seniors, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, by a week.

The government had relaxed social distancing rules and allowed most businesses to reopen after a large and sustained drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, culminating in days without a single new case. But that all changed after a six-day national holiday at the end of April.

Quarantine workers spray disinfectants at night spots of Itaewon neighborhood, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seoul
Quarantine workers spray disinfectants at night spots of Itaewon neighborhood, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2020. YONHAP/REUTERS

Bars, clubs and restaurants had reopened their doors, and over the last week in April, the clubs of Seoul's popular Itaewon nightlife district were packed. One of the clubbers was a man in his early 20s who visited various establishments on the evening of May 1. He later tested positive for the coronavirus, though he was showing no symptoms at the time.  

He is believed to be at least one of the individuals behind the new disease cluster, which is focused in Itaewon. Of the roughly 6,000 people who visited clubs in the area that night, only 2,400 have been traced and contacted so far.

The government is encouraging anyone who was in Itaewon that night to get tested, but at least some of the affected clubs are popular with the LGBTQ community, and given still-pervasive stigmatization of that community in South Korea, there are fears some people may be reluctant to come forward.

"I heard some people are reluctant to get tested for fear of being criticized. We will try hard to make sure everyone receives a test without feeling uncomfortable or prejudiced against," Jeong Eun-kyeong, head of the Korean Centers for Disease Control, said in a press briefing.

The future of travel after the coronavirus pandemic

A lot of older South Koreans have expressed anger at the club-goers, with some arguing that people who visited the clubs in Itaewon shouldn't be treated for COVID-19 infections with tax-payers' money.

Authorities in Seoul, meanwhile have ordered the capital's nightclubs, bars and other nightlife businesses closed again in light of the new infections.

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