An outbreak of COVID-19 linked to Seoul, South Korea’s nightclub district, which we reported on last week, has worsened with 30+ new cases, leading to increased homophobic backlash, and a warning from prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, not to stigmatize the LGBTQ community.
The Guardian reports: “Of 35 new cases, 29 were found to be linked to Itaewon, the capital’s gay district, according to officials from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), bringing the total number of cases related to the clubs to 86. After Kookmin Ilbo, a local media outlet with links to an evangelical church, reported that businesses visited by an infected man over the long weekend were gay clubs, many other South Korean media followed suit, revealing not only the identity of clientele but also some of their ages and the names of their workplaces. The media frenzy reached a new level when another infected man was found to have been to an LGBT sauna in Gangnam, prompting a slew of homophobic content in newspapers and online.”
The outbreak was traced back to one clubber who visited Itaewon the weekend before last.
JoongAng Daily reports: “The five establishments visited by the 29-year-old from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. were King Club, Queen, Trunk, Soho and H.I.M, which are frequented by gay men. Many infections seem to be coming from King Club, where he stayed the longest. Health officials said they believe the Yongin man was the initial spreader of the coronavirus at the Itaewon clubs, but how he got infected remains a mystery. Authorities said he hadn’t traveled abroad recently, which means he contracted the disease locally.”
Reuters adds, “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.”
As the outbreak grows, the government’s attempts to track those who might have been infected is made difficult by a growing homophobic backlash which has the result of discouraging people to come forward for fear that revealing their sexual orientation might cost them their jobs, or worse.
The Washington Post reports: “‘Gay club’ and ‘gay coronavirus’ were among the most searched terms on South Korean social media in the days following the outbreak. The Internet was rife with online abuse against the sexual minorities, with attacks ranging from hate speech to images claiming to show the ‘filthy goings-on’ at gay bars that gave rise to infections.”
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun asked the public to “refrain from criticising a certain community as it will not help efforts to contain the coronavirus spread.”
Health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho added: “We release the movement of confirmed patients to encourage anyone who might be exposed get tested voluntarily. We urge you to refrain from distributing patients’ personal information or groundless rumors, which not only hurts them but can also be subject to punishment.”
A news report from May 8: