When rumors emerged that a large number of infections by coronavirus It had started among gay men who had fun in Seoul’s hottest nightlife district, city health officials opted for anonymity.
Anonymous tests were carried out in clinics to avoid the discrimination and stigma faced by homosexuals in South Korea, which could make it difficult to discover cases. In response, more than 40,000 nightclub patrons and their contacts were tested, helping to stem a nationwide outbreak that infected at least 246 people, researchers said in a report released last week.
The contact screening and tracking approach was reinforced by information obtained from cell phone location data, credit card payment history, public transport records and closed circuit video images.
It is an example of using the tools available to “quickly and effectively contain what could have been a much larger outbreak,” said infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch of the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.
“This is the gold standard for conducting contact tracking effectively, especially in stigmatized populations,” said Bogoch in a Twitter post.
South Korea has been widely praised for its success in containing the pandemic. After a peak of more than 800 cases a day in February, the country of 52 million has managed to reduce the number of new cases reported daily to less than 100 since the beginning of April.
Infections linked to nightclubs in the neighborhood of Itaewon coincided with the relaxation of the rules of social distance, on April 30. This was also the beginning of a long holiday that attracted people from all over the country to this central neighborhood known for its bars and nightclubs frequented by foreigners, luxury restaurants and kabobs.
Of the 41,612 tests for coronavirus performed during the first weeks of May, 1,627 people had their identity preserved and one of them tested positive, according to the researchers. The idea of anonymous testing came after the city council consulted with sexual minority groups to discuss ways to encourage testing among gay men.
“Through the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, we reported that public health center screening clinics were conducting anonymous tests for covid-19,” wrote Cho Ryok Kang, public health authority for the Seoul metropolitan government , in the report prepared with colleagues. “We also announced the anonymous tests through the mass media.”
The research, published in the journal on Emerging Infectious Diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlights measures that the Korean government has successfully implemented to eliminate outbreaks triggered by one or two highly infectious or “super-spreading” individuals.
“Despite the low incidence of Covid-19 in the post-peak period of the pandemic, overclocking related to nightclubs in Seoul has the potential to cause a resurgence of cases in South Korea,” according to the researchers.