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Covid-19: Seoul closes 2,100 nightclubs after last weekend's clubbing causes spike in infections

South Korea had relaxed social distancing guidelines last week.

Bars and restaurants in the Gangnam area of Seoul.
Bars and restaurants in the Gangnam area of Seoul.
Image: Shutterstock

SEOUL HAS SHUT down more than 2,100 nightclubs, hostess bars and discos after dozens of coronavirus infections were linked to clubgoers who went out last weekend as South Korea relaxed social distancing guidelines.

The measures imposed by mayor Park Won-soon came after the national government urged entertainment venues around the nation to close or enforce anti-virus measures, including distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and requiring employees to wear masks.

Park said the closures will be maintained until the city concludes that infections risks have been meaningfully lowered.

South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention earlier said 18 fresh cases were reported in the 24 hours to midnight on Friday, all but one of them linked to a 29-year-old man who visited three clubs in the capital’s Itaewon district last Saturday before testing positive on Tuesday.

But Park said 16 more cases were confirmed in Seoul alone in the following hours.

He said this took the number of infections linked to clubgoers to 40 — 27 in Seoul, 12 in neighbouring Incheon and Gyeonggi province towns, and one in the southern port city of Busan.

In Germany, a fresh outbreak in slaughterhouses also illustrated the challenges authorities face as they seek to open up their economies.

Germany and South Korea have both carried out extensive testing and contact tracing, and have been hailed for avoiding the mass deaths that have overwhelmed other countries in their regions, but even there authorities have struggled to find the balance between saving lives and saving jobs.

Health officials are scrambling to contain fresh outbreaks at three slaughterhouses — two in the west of Germany and one in the north.

The response is seen as a test for the government’s new strategy of getting local authorities to tackle any surge in new cases, which was agreed on Wednesday as part of a plan for gradually easing restrictions and returning to normality.

Elsewhere, Pakistan bowed to economic pressure and allowed some businesses to reopen despite a surge in cases, while countries including the US, Brazil and Italy were also wrestling with how to ease curbs on business and public activity.

Worldwide, the virus has infected at least 3.9 million people and killed more than 275,000, according to the latest tallies.

Pakistan has allowed shops, factories, construction sites and some other businesses to reopen, while 1,637 new cases and 24 deaths were reported. 

Prime minister Imran Khan said his government is rolling back curbs because it cannot support millions of families who depend on daily wages.

The government warned controls will be reimposed if the public fails to follow social distancing guidelines.

The US government yesterday reported unemployment had surged to its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s, adding to conflict over when to allow businesses to reopen.

The Labour Department reported unemployment stood at 14.7% after 20.5 million jobs vanished in April.

The department, citing miscounting of some workers by its survey-takers, said the true rate probably was closer to 20%. Some economists said the total might be even higher at 23.6%, not far from the 1939 peak of 25%.

President Donald Trump is pushing state governors to allow factories, restaurants and shops to reopen despite warnings that it might lead to a deadly spike in infections.

China, where the pandemic began in December, announced plans to reopen more schools in the capital Beijing.

More than 84,200 junior high school students and 13,200 teachers will return to class on Monday, the city government announced. Nearly 50,000 high school students went back to class April 27.

Controls including checks for the virus’s telltale fever are still in place at apartment complexes and public buildings in the Chinese capital.

Italy’s government said it would take legal action to stop a northern province, Bolzano, from reopening stores this weekend in defiance of a national plan to wait until later this month.

Italy has reported more than 217,000 virus cases and 30,200 deaths.

In Brazil, the country’s fifth-biggest city, Fortaleza, started a lockdown yesterday amid surging infections, even as President Jair Bolsonaro asked the Supreme Court to order states to roll back restrictions on business.

Brazil has more than 140,000 cases and 9,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

The latest tally today has found that the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 275,000 people worldwide since it began in China late last year, with more than 85% of fatalities in Europe and the United States.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2020

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