As west reopens, new coronavirus clusters emerge in Asia. Particularly South Korea. Sources from CBS News reveal that the 86 confirmed new cases prompted officials to delay the beginning of classes for high school seniors, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, by a week.
The government went easy on social distancing rules and allowed most businesses to reopen after a large and sustained drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, coming from days without a single new case. All that changed after a six-day national holiday at the end of April.
Bars, clubs and restaurants reopened their doors, and over the last week in April, the clubs of Seoul’s popular Itaewon nightlife district were packed. One of the clubbers was a man in his early 20s who visited various establishments on the evening of May 1. He later tested positive for the coronavirus, though he was showing no symptoms at the time.
He is believed to be at least one of the individuals behind the new disease cluster, which is focused in Itaewon. Of the roughly 6,000 people who visited clubs in the area that night, only 2,400 have been traced and contacted so far.
The government encourages anyone who was in Itaewon that night to get tested, but at least some of the affected clubs are popular with the LGBTQ community, and given still-pervasive stigmatization of that community in South Korea, there are fears some people may hesitate to come forward.
“I heard some people are reluctant to get tested for fear of being criticized. We will try hard to make sure everyone receives a test without feeling uncomfortable or prejudiced against,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, head of the Korean Centers for Disease Control, said in a press briefing.
Older South Koreans are upset at the clubbers, some are arguing that people who visited the clubs in Itaewon should not be treated for COVID-19 infections with tax-payers’ money.
Authorities in Seoul, meanwhile have ordered the capital’s nightclubs, bars and other nightlife businesses closed again in light of the new infections.
Now in the U.S, states are starting to reopen their economies after months of crippling lockdowns. The outbreak’s trajectory varies wildly across the country, with steep increases in cases in some places, decreases in others and infection rates that can shift unexpectedly from neighborhood to neighborhood.
“Part of the challenge is although we are focused on the top-line national numbers in terms of our attention, what we are seeing is 50 different curves and 50 different stories playing out,” said Thomas Tsai, assistant professor at the Harvard Global Health Institute. “And what we have seen about COVID-19 is that the story and the effect is often very local.”
A couple of states started easing their lockdowns about two weeks ago, allowing reopenings by establishments ranging from shopping malls in Texas to beach hotels in South Carolina to gyms in Wyoming. Sparsely populated Wyoming, which has some of the lowest infection numbers in the United States, plans to reopen bars and restaurants Friday. Georgia was one of the first states where some businesses were allowed to open their doors again, starting April 24 with barber shops, hair salons, gyms, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors.
It may be five to six weeks from then before the effects are known, said Crystal Watson of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“As we saw early in the year, epidemics of COVID-19 start slow and take some time to build and become evident,” Watson said in an email.
For example, steep increases in daily new cases are occurring in Hennepin County in Minnesota and Fairfax County in Virginia, while in others, such as Bergen County, New Jersey, and Wayne County, Michigan, there’s been a steady decline.
“This virus may never go away,” Dr. Michael Ryan said at a press briefing. Without a vaccine, he said, it could take years for the global population to build up sufficient levels of immunity.
“I think it’s important to put this on the table,” he said. “This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities” like other previously novel diseases, such as HIV, which have never disappeared, but for which effective treatments have been developed.
It can take three to five days for someone newly infected with the coronavirus to feel sick, and some infected people won’t even have symptoms. Since testing is mostly reserved in the U.S. for those with symptoms, it can take two weeks or so — the time for one group of people to spread the virus to another — to have enough testing data to reflect a surge in cases.
“If you are doing adequate testing, it will take two to three weeks” to spot an increase, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said Wednesday as he prepared to speak to a congressional subcommittee on the crisis.
He urged a dramatic increase in testing.
“It was the failure of testing that caused our country to shut down,” Jha said. “We need federal leadership on the level of testing, guidance on whom to test and federal help on the sheer capacity, the number of tests that can be done. We still do not have the testing capacity we need to open up safely.”
Throughout the continent of Asia, authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic first began late last year, are pressing ahead to test all 11 million residents for the virus within 10 days after a handful of new infections were found.
Lebanese authorities reinstated a nationwide lockdown for four days beginning Wednesday night after a spike in reported infections and complaints that social distancing rules were being ignored.
The U.S. has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world by far: 1.39 million infections and over 84,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 4.3 million people and killed some 297,000, according to the Johns Hopkins tally. Experts say the actual numbers are likely far higher.