A 29-year-old Seoul man singlehandedly kicked into gear a massive contact tracing operation in South Korea after he visited five clubs and bars in a Seoul neighborhood on a busy weekend night and was later tested positive for COVID-19. The incident highlights the sheer scope of the response which can be triggered by one infected individual as well as the willingness of Korean authorities to use cell phone data, credit card data and CCTV footage to track down individuals who could have come into contact with the virus. The country has become known for its coronavirus response that is based on wide-ranging contact tracing and testing instead of the complete shuttering of non-essential businesses. The event also shows what challenges countries in Europe and North America, where businesses gradually reopen, are up against.
The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of Wednesday, 119 new infection have been traced back to the 29-year-old and that 5,517 fellow clubgoers have been contacted in the process. This has led to 7,272 additional tests being administered on Tuesday (on top of the baseline of 4,000 to 5,000 tests carried out daily in the country) to patrons and their families/immediate contacts. Authorities said they had identified a total of more than 11,000 people who had been in the general area on the night in question.
Out of the 5,517 people who authorities are seeking contact with, 1,982 have so far not replied, showing that even a sophisticated method is not perfect. Since the bars and clubs in question catered to gay audiences, Korea’s traditional stance on sexual identity could be hampering peoples’ will to come forward.