Early coronavirus cases linked to bars and clubs in Itaewon, one of Seoul’s main party districts, appear to have originated from Europe and the US, suggesting the virus has been carried over from those who arrived in South Korea from overseas, health authorities said Friday.
The coronavirus samples from the 14 early infections traced to the Itaewon cluster are similar to what is found in infected patients who few from the US and Europe, according to genome analysis on virus samples.
“We assume that it is highly possible that people who arrived in Korea from the US and Europe had transmitted the virus in Itaewon, not people from Daegu or North Gyeongsang Province,” Jung Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a briefing Friday.
The coronavirus that has been circulating in Daegu and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, which represent a combined 74 percent of the country’s total cases, has Asian origins. Daegu was once the country’s epicenter of the virus outbreak, with most cases traced to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city in early February.
Coronavirus testing and two weeks of self-quarantine were made mandatory on all arrivals from Europe and the US on March 22 and March 27, respectively. The government expanded the mandatory rules on international arrivals starting on April 1.
For those arriving before then, only those showing symptoms were tested for the virus without any mandatory rules to self-quarantine.
“We estimate that the virus was imported to some extent from those arriving from abroad in March,” Jung said. “The virus imported from the US and Europe could have been quietly spreading in the greater Seoul area.”
The KCDC researchers analyzed 151 samples from 142 patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 across the country. Among them, 55 samples, most of whom were from people arriving from abroad or linked to the Itaewon cluster, shared the same genome that came from the US or Europe.
Some 14 patients linked to the Itaewon cluster had the same virus genome, which means they share the same source of infection.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)