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As South Korea Eases Limits, Virus Cluster Prompts Seoul to Close Bars


Go out, socialize and have fun, South Korea’s government told its people, declaring the start of “a new daily life with Covid-19” — while keeping a vigilant eye out for any sign of backsliding, any need for restrictions to snap back into place.

It didn’t take long.

On Saturday, just the fourth day of the new phase, the mayor of Seoul ordered all the capital’s bars and nightclubs shut down indefinitely after the discovery of a cluster of dozens of coronavirus infections.

Government officials, health workers and much of the public know full well that until there is a vaccine, relaxing restrictions will lead to more infections, and possibly more deaths. The trick will be to do it without allowing the contagion to come roaring back.

Other nations, eager to reopen but fearful of the consequences, will be watching closely to see what happens in South Korea.

“A second wave is inevitable,” said Son Young-rae, a senior epidemiological strategist at the government’s Central Disaster Management Headquarters. “But we are running a constant monitoring and screening system throughout our society so that we can prevent it from exploding rapidly into hundreds or thousands of cases like the one we had in the past.”

“We hope to slow the spread and keep the size down to small, sporadic outbreaks, hopefully of 20 to 30 cases, that come and go,” he said, “so that we can handle them while the people go on with their daily lives.”

The country adopted a massive, multipronged approach, including aggressive testing and contact-tracing, near-universal use of masks, social distancing, and localized clampdowns on hot spots. It was aided by a high degree of public cooperation.

Now it is counting on the same tools to prevent a resurgence, creating a new strategy on the fly.

“We can’t sustain our society with our daily life and economic activities standing still​,” said Health Minister Park Neung-hoo.​ “But unfortunately, we could not find a precedent for what we are trying to do​. More likely, our experience, with its trials and errors, will serve as a reference for other nations​ down the road.”

After a 29-year-old man tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, epidemiologists quickly learned that he had visited three nightclubs in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul, on May 2. By Saturday evening, they said they were tracking down 7,200 people who had visited five Itaewon nightclubs where the virus might have ben spread.

So far, 27 cases have been found among the club-goers and people who had close contact with them, Kwon Jun-wok, a senior disease-control official, said during a news briefing on Saturday.

The mayor, Park Won-soon, cited a higher figure, saying that at least 40 infections had been linked to the nightclubs. As he closed the clubs, he scolded patrons who had failed to practice safeguards like wearing masks, accusing them of putting the entire nation’s health at risk.

“Just because of a few people’s carelessness, all our efforts so far can go to waste,” he said.

Under the newly eased policy that went into effect on Wednesday, the government is urging people to reclaim pieces of their daily lives, and gathering places like schools, museums, libraries, stadiums and concert halls are expected to reopen in the coming weeks.

If it weren’t for the ubiquitous masks, South Korean cities these days would look almost as they did before the virus. Subways have filled up with commuters. Long lines have started forming on sidewalks in Seoul, not to buy masks but to get seats in favored restaurants.

​The government estimates that the medical system can ​comfortably ​control Covid-19 if there are fewer than 50 new cases per day, and epidemiologists can trace the source of infection at least 95 percent of the time — milestones the country passed last month.

But things are far from normal. Nightclubs and bathhouses take the temperatures of everyone who enters. Students wear masks in class and are not allowed to play contact sports. At Suwon Hi-Tech High School in Suwon, a city south of Seoul, every student’s temperature is checked four times a day.

“Complacency is the biggest risk,” said Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

​South Korea still finds occasional patients whose origin of infection ​cannot be established. Ms. Jung said, “this means that the virus that has infected these people is still out there in the community.”

A government task force of ​economists and sociologists, as well as infectious-disease experts, drafted a 68-page “guidebook for distancing in daily life.” It outlined measures like installing partitions at cafeteria and dining-hall tables, keeping masks on in church and having visitors to weddings, funerals, karaoke bars, nightclubs and internet-game parlors write down their names and telephone numbers so they can be traced later.

It calls for workers with even minor potential symptoms of Covid-19 to call in sick for a few days — a tall order in a culture where reporting for work even when sick is considered a virtue.

The draft was posted online in mid-April ​for public feedback. One change made with citizens’ suggestion: keeping every other seat empty in movie theaters.​

“There is no going back to the life we had before Covid-19,” said Kim Gang-lip, a senior policy coordinator at Central Disaster Management Headquarters. “Instead, we ​are creating a new set of social norms and culture.”



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COVID-19: Praise for pandemic health pros prompts patio dance party


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Each night at 7 p.m., Vancouverites collectively stand on their balconies, patios and yards to bang pots, pans and other cookware, as a way of applauding essential workers across the city who continue to step up in the face of COVID-19.

A few minutes after that is when the party gets started – that is, the Mount Pleasant patio dance party.

Harry Curtin, 28, is a teacher and has been working remotely from his condo near Main and 7th since health officials ordered schools and workplaces closed to curb the spread of the virus.

He and two roommates had been regularly participating in the nightly 7 p.m. cheer when, on a sunny Tuesday in early April, the trio decided to play some music over a speaker when the clanging and banging subsided.

“It just seemed like – we could all clearly see each other but we just kind of walked back into our apartment,” Curtin said of his neighbourhood, which consists of condominiums clustered around a Main Street intersection.



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Uber sexual assault report prompts concerns over ridesharing in B.C. But are taxis any safer?


In the wake of damning data from Uber that found more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported inside U.S. rides last year, B.C. is asking how safe ridesharing will be when it eventually arrives on the province’s roads.

But a lack of similar data regarding sexual assaults in taxis across B.C. makes it difficult to draw comparisons.

In its safety report, Uber said 464 people were raped while using its U.S. services in 2017 and 2018. Almost all of them — 99.4 per cent — were riders. It’s difficult to compare those statistics to other modes of transportation because U.S. taxi companies and transit agencies generally do not collect similar national data.


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Uber reports more than 3,000 sexual assaults during U.S. rides in 2018

That appears to be the case in B.C. as well. The RCMP and other police agencies said they didn’t have that data on hand, adding it’s “not something that can be easily teased out.”

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Although Vancouver police said they have received “a number of complaints” over the last two years, a spokesperson said it’s “not an epidemic by any means”, considering the number of rides that take place.

The Passenger Transportation Board, which is tasked with dealing with driver complaints, also said it doesn’t track those specific incidents.






Fraser Valley temple president charged with sexual assault


Fraser Valley temple president charged with sexual assault

Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena said the province demands “the highest level” of criminal background checks for taxi drivers, and is assuring the province the same standard will be set for ridesharing drivers.

“We have a very strict policy with taxis where we do follow up if there are assaults,” she said. “We obviously want people to be safe however they’re travelling, whatever form of transportation they’re using.

“There are, sadly, always going to be incidents and I think this is extremely concerning that there are. We do everything we can to make sure that those people who are driving a vehicle to earn an income are assessed, are checked … to ensure people who are driving are as safe as we can attest.”



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Uber weighs next steps after report showed more than 3,000 sex assaults during U.S. rides in 2018

In its report, Uber noted that drivers and riders were both attacked and that some assaults occurred between riders. It added its data was based solely on reports from riders and drivers — meaning the actual numbers could be much higher. Sexual assaults commonly go unreported.

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In B.C., at least two taxi drivers have been charged with sexually assaulting a passenger while on the job this year, including a July case in Kelowna and another in North Vancouver this past March.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver, said sexual violence is bound to happen when vulnerable people, particularly women, find themselves in a confined space.






Uber safety report reveals nearly 6K cases of alleged sexual assault


Uber safety report reveals nearly 6K cases of alleged sexual assault

“We know that many women are experiencing sexual violence in taxi cabs, including women that are vulnerable such as Indigenous women, women with disabilities,” she said. “It is a big concern.”

MacDougall also took issue with Uber noting the number of sexual assaults in 2018 pales in comparison to the 1.3 billion rides across the U.S. that year. In her view, just one case is too many.

“We shouldn’t be in a situation where a woman needs a ride to work or home from work, or from a night out, and is at risk of sexual violence,” she said.

“We expect ridesharing companies will take this very seriously and will take action and to prevent it.”


READ MORE:
North Shore Taxi driver charged for allegedly sexually assaulting passenger in cab in West Vancouver

No one from the Vancouver Taxi Association or the city’s taxi companies responded to requests for comment.

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In the past, the association has taken issue with ridesharing drivers not being required to mount cameras inside their vehicles like taxis do. MacDougall said that’s also not the point.

“It maybe provides some deterrent, maybe some evidence, but we also know that cameras can be disabled,” she said.

“The point is, rather, that the company is taking very careful action in their recruitment and monitoring of those in the ridesharing program, and that they take swift and serious action any time there is an allegation or evidence of sexual violence.”

Lyft said last year it would also release a safety report. A company spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that it “remained committed” to releasing a report, but did not say when.

—With files from the Associated Press




© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.







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