May 14, 2020 13:01
The once-bustling party district of Itaewon in Seoul now resembles a ghost town after a spate of coronavirus infections were traced to nightclubs there.
After a man in his late 20s who roamed about a nightclub and other bars in Itaewon over the long weekend tested positive on May 6, new infections linked to clubs there swelled to over 120 in less than a week.
Itaewon shopkeepers said they have never seen the district so empty since it became trendy in the mid-1990s.
One restaurant serving samgyeopsal or Korean-style bacon near a bustling subway exit in Itaewon used to have long lines of patrons waiting to be served. But on Monday night only three of the 20 tables were occupied. Owner Lee Dong-hee (60) said, "I used to make around W2 million a day, but that's dropped to less than W100,000 a day since last week."
Some taxi drivers are refusing fares to Itaewon. Taxi driver Choi Kyung-moo (47) said, "I'm trying to ignore requests from the system if I have to pick up customers who want to go Itaewon. If I carry a potential coronavirus patient I'll have to stay home for at least a week and risk infection."
Many local traders are angry with the government and Seoul city officials. "One man visited a bar in Gangnam before he tested positive and the government was reluctant to identify him, but now they are overly stressing the fact that the latest infections occurred in Itaewon."
Club owners claim they were abiding by social-distancing orders. Lee Dae-jin of a community association of traders in the district said, "Everyone knew young people would come once the clubs were allowed to open again, and the government let us do it. The infected people went back home, but the government continues to cast the spotlight on Itaewon."
As of Wednesday, only four out of about 120 confirmed cases linked to Itaewon clubs and bars actually live in the district.
Lee, the restaurant owner, said "Daegu turned into a fortress after being labeled a hotbed of coronavirus infections. I've worked with my staff for more than 10 years and endured the coronavirus crisis so far, but I think I won't be able to last much longer."
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