The capital of South Korea has ordered the closure of all clubs and bars after an explosion of new cases has raised fears of a second wave of coronavirus while President Moon Jae-in urged the public to remain vigilant.
The nation has been touted as a global model for fighting the virus, but the Seoul mayor’s order on Saturday followed the new infection cluster in Itaewon, one of the city’s busiest nightlife districts .
More than two dozen cases were linked to a 29-year-old man who tested positive after spending time at five clubs and bars in Itaewon last weekend.
Health officials have warned of a new outbreak of infections, with around 7,200 people estimated to have visited the five identified facilities.
“Neglect can lead to an explosion of infections,” said Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, adding that the order would remain in effect indefinitely.
Park asked those who visited these clubs and bars to come forward.
Of the 18 new South Korean cases reported on Saturday, 17 were linked to the Itaewon cluster, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The jump in new infections comes as daily life in South Korea slowly began to return to normal, with the government easing social distancing rules last Wednesday.
President Moon said on Sunday that the new infection group had “raised awareness that even during the stabilization phase, similar situations can recur at any time.”
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Moon said in a speech marking his third anniversary since taking office.
“While keeping heightened vigilance until the end, we must never lower our guard regarding the prevention of epidemics,” he added.
Moon has enjoyed growing public support following his government’s management of the virus, which led to an overwhelming victory for his ruling party in legislative elections last month.
The country reported 34 new cases on Sunday – its largest daily increase in a month – bringing the total to 10,874.
The South Koreans reacted with fury and fear to the news of the latest peak of infections.
“What a disaster … Is this the start of a new wave of a nationwide coronavirus epidemic?” wrote a user online.
Another commenter added, “It is outrageous how selfish and ignorant people can be. We all have to stay at home.”
The country suffered one of the worst early epidemics of the disease outside of mainland China, and although it has never imposed mandatory lockdowns, strict social distancing has been widely observed since March.
But he seems to have brought his epidemic under control thanks to a vast program of “tracing, testing and treatment” which has aroused many praises.
Facilities like museums and churches have resumed operations and some professional sports, including baseball and football, have started new seasons, while schools are expected to reopen starting next week.