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Seoul to digitize visitor information at high risk venues to facilitate contact tracing

Schools to allow partial attendance

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo in a Central Disaster Response Headquarters meeting (Yonhap)
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo in a Central Disaster Response Headquarters meeting (Yonhap)

South Korea is introducing a digitized registry of visitors at businesses and establishments deemed to have high contagion risks starting early June.

The Central Disaster Management Headquarters said Sunday those wishing to visit “high-risk” venues will be required to generate a QR code to be scanned upon entry, which will allow an automatic digitization of the log of all visitors. 

IT companies like Naver will develop the applications for issuing the QR codes, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said, with further details to come later. Personal information of the QR code holders will be accessible by government officials only, and expire in four weeks’ time.

The measure comes as health authorities are struggling with individuals who have had potential exposure to the coronavirus but have evaded disease control officials, with some lying about travel histories and spreading the disease in their communities.

The health minister said that noncompliance with authorities and dishonest accounts during coronavirus investigations were among challenges faced by health officials.

Korea on Sunday reported 25 more patients of COVID-19, the infectious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, putting the nationwide total at 11,190.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that 17 of the newly confirmed cases over the 24 hours the previous day were not linked to overseas travels. North Gyeongsang Province had the most locally transmitted cases at six, followed by Gyeonggi Province’s five, Seoul’s four and Incheon’s two.

By noon Sunday, health authorities found 225 patients with ties to nightlife establishments in Itaewon, central Seoul, where the first known case was detected on May 6. Less than half or 96 of the Itaewon-linked patients with COVID-19 are direct visitors of the nightclubs, the remaining 129 being their contacts.

Most of the Itaewon infections are based in the greater Seoul area, with 106 of them in Seoul and 98 in the adjacent regions of Gyeonggi and Incheon.

Last week in Suwon and Gimpo, both cities near Seoul, a bus commuter and two firefighters tested positive for COVID-19, respectively, with officials still scrambling to track from whom and where they contracted the disease.

“Infections associated with the Itaewon nightclubs continue to emerge after 17 days since we identified the first patient. Officials are investigating the cases and tracing their contacts exhaustively,” said the disease control agency’s Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook in a Saturday press briefing.

At least nine cases were discovered among health care workers and staffers at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul since a nurse there tested positive on Monday. Another hospital in Yongin, a city south of Seoul, had to suspend operations for a day on Tuesday after one of its staffers came down with the infection.

With renewed infections stirring fears of second wave, the Ministry of Education announced Sunday areas at increased risk of community contagion are advised to limit in-person attendance to less than two thirds of the student body.

Meanwhile, the KCDC is on alert over an emerging inflammatory disease that affects children.

The disease control agency on Saturday said it was launching a unit committed to surveillance of the children’s disease that may be related to COVID-19.

In a media conference held last week, the World Health Organization asked world leaders to work with doctors to “better understand” the syndrome in children.

First reported in Europe last month, the rare inflammatory disease has spread to 13 countries including the United States as of Saturday. Korea has yet to confirm a known case to date.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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