S. Korea scrambles to contain Seoul LGBT+ nightclub COVID-19 outbreak
By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
South Korean officials scrambled on Monday to contain a new coronavirus outbreak, searching for thousands of people who may have been infected in a cluster of cases linked to nightclubs and bars in the capital Seoul.
South Korea has been lauded for its quick, effective action on its epidemic, significantly reducing the rate of new infections in recent weeks, but the resurgence of cases has raised worries about a second wave of infections.
Officials reported 35 new cases as of midnight on Sunday, the second consecutive day of new cases of that magnitude and the highest numbers in more than a month.
Twenty-nine of the new cases were linked to several Seoul nightclubs and bars, many of them catering to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
That has raised complications for officials trying to track those who might be infected, in a Nation where homosexuality is often taboo and LGBTQ people face discrimination, including job loss and hate speech.
Authorities have tested more than 2,450 people who went to the night spots in the Itaewon neighbourhood, but were still trying to track about 3,000 more. Hundreds of other people who came into contact with club patrons have also been tested.
"Our top priority is to minimise the spread of the infections," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a meeting with government officials, calling on authorities to work with Police.
"We should quickly find and test them, and speed is key."
The outbreak has highlighted a possible unintended consequence of South Korea's invasive tracing methods and its disclosure of some patient information, including their recent locations, as part of its approach to tackling the coronavirus.
Health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho acknowledged concern that individuals within the LGBTQ community could be outed and face discrimination if they came forward.
"We release the movement of confirmed patients to encourage anyone who might be exposed get tested voluntarily," he told a briefing.
"We urge you to refrain from distributing patients' personal information or groundless rumours, which not only hurts them but can also be subject to punishment."