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A look at COVID-19 nightlife clusters in Asia

A look at COVID-19 nightlife clusters in Asia

South Korea's capital ordered the closure of all clubs and bars after a burst of new cases in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon sparked fears of a second wave of infections. (Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-je)

SINGAPORE: A growing number of COVID-19 infections linked to KTV lounges and clubs has seen local transmission of the virus surge in recent days in Singapore. 

As of Thursday (Jul 15) noon, 87 cases in Singapore have been tied to the KTV cluster

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung described the situation as “very troubling and disappointing”, adding that activities such as hostess services and dice games have been banned for more than a year.  

Cases were first announced on Jul 12, when the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that Vietnamese social hostesses who frequented outlets currently operating as food and beverage outlets were among the country’s new infections. 

READ: Timeline: From KTV lounges switching to F&B outlets, to a spike in local COVID-19 cases

During the course of the pandemic, several COVID-19 clusters in Asia have been linked to nightlife venues. 

Here is a closer look:

HONG KONG 

In Hong Kong, a growing number of infections linked to dance clubs prompted authorities to shut down bars last November, nightclubs and other entertainment venues for the third time that year, as they scrambled to tackle a renewed rise in COVID-19 cases. 

Mobile testing stations were set up in several districts, with the government appealing to residents in affected areas to take a COVID-19 test to help contain the outbreak. A temporary COVID-19 treatment hall near the city's airport was also reopened. 

At the time, more than 180 infections were tied to dance clubs.

The South China Morning Post reported that the cluster surfaced after a 75-year-old businesswoman, who visited the Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai, was confirmed to have the infection on Nov 19.

The jump in cases led to the postponement of a travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore, which had been due for launch on Nov 22. 

Hong Kong has reported about 12,000 COVID-19 cases in total.

READ: Hong Kong curbs karaoke, closes games centres after reporting 76 new COVID-19 cases

JAPAN

Hostess bars and clubs were singled out as hotspots for coronavirus clusters in July last year, after a spike in the number of cases.

Strategic testing conducted in the nightlife districts of Tokyo resulted in rising daily cases of COVID, predominantly among people in their 20s and 30s.

The clusters prompted authorities to raise the city's alert status to the highest level on Jul 15, 2020. 

READ: South Korea orders closure of nightclubs, karaoke bars amid concern over fourth COVID-19 wave

SOUTH KOREA 

Last year, a 29-year-old man who visited five gay clubs in a popular nightlife district in Seoul tested positive for COVID-19 in May, sparking concerns over a second wave of infections. A number of cases were later linked to him. 

After the cluster emerged, clubs and bars in Seoul were ordered to shut for a few days.

However, testing and contact tracing proved to be challenge for authorities, as nightclub customers were reluctant to come forward. 

Rights groups and experts believed that it was because of the stigma surrounding homosexuality in the socially conservative country. 

Authorities had to resort to combing through mobile phone data, credit card statements and CCTV footage to identify nearly 2,000 people who were not contactable. 

On Monday, South Korea, which has reported more than 173,000 cases to date, announced that it would tighten COVID-19 curbs to the strictest level possible in Seoul and neighbouring regions, following a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Nightclubs and bars have also been ordered to shut. 

READ: Taiwan tightens curbs after reporting 180 new domestic COVID-19 cases

READ: Thailand reports more than 4,500 COVID-19 cases this month linked to nightclubs, parties and concerts

TAIWAN 

In May, Taiwan saw a sudden spike in domestic cases, after 16 cases were linked to teahouses in the city. 

Taipei’s government shut down hostess clubs and teahouses, as well as entertainment venues such as bars, dance clubs and KTV lounges, to control the spread of the virus.

Taiwan also raised its COVID-19 alert level in Taipei and the surrounding city, and tightened curbs to restrict social activities. 

Gatherings of families and friends were limited to five indoors and 10 outdoors, and the wearing of masks in public was made mandatory.

To date, Taiwan has reported more than 15,000 confirmed cases. 

THAILAND

Thailand reported more than 4,500 COVID-19 cases, which spread from nightclubs, parties and concerts, in April.

Bangkok alone accounted for 1,614 of these cases.

Following the spike in cases, the Thai government ordered a temporary closure of nightclubs, pubs and bars nationwide, along with other measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.

It came after Bangkok and 17 other provinces in Thailand were declared maximum control areas or “red zones” to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

Various measures were implemented to limit people's movement and reduce the risk of infection.

Nationwide, night venues such as pubs, bars and massage parlours were closed for at least two weeks. Schools and universities also had to be shut.

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Source: CNA/vl(rw)

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