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South Korea promises more privacy as it tracks contacts of new coronavirus cases


South Korean health authorities said on Thursday they would revise their practice of publicizing the travel routes of coronavirus patients due to fears of a backlash against people who attended nightclubs at the center of a new outbreak.

After weeks of nearly no new domestic coronavirus cases, South Korea has seen a new spike in infections centered around nightclubs and bars in some of Seoul’s most popular nightlife neighborhoods.

Investigators have struggled to find around 2,000 people wanted for testing, an effort complicated by public criticism of the clubgoers, as well as concerns about discrimination as several of the clubs cater to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

While clubs and bars were required to log the names and contact phone numbers for all visitors as a condition of reopening, much of the information turned out to be incomplete or false, officials said.

That has left officials combing through cellphone location data and CCTV footage to try to identify some customers, while publicly pleading for people to come forward and be tested.

Officials say they understand some individuals may fear social stigmatization, and have promised to try to reduce the amount of information usually released about confirmed patients.

South Korea has typically released information like a patient’s age, gender, and places visited immediately before testing positive, as well as in some cases, patients’ last names and general occupations.

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About 2,000 people are still being sought by officials.

“The health and quarantine authorities have expanded anonymous testing nationwide to prevent unnecessary violations of privacy,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said at a meeting of health authorities on Thursday, according to his office.

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“In addition, we plan to revise the guidelines to prevent excessive disclosure of a patient’s travel itinerary.”

People who ignore calls to be tested can face a fine of up to 2 million won ($1,630), health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho told a briefing.


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