Homophobia Complicates Contact Tracing In New South Korea Cluster

The fear of LGBTQ related stigma and discrimination has resulted in people becoming reluctant to come forward and get tested.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 — A recent spike in new Covid-19 cases in South Korea linked to an index case who visited several Seoul nightclubs has brought fears that a second wave of infections could be emerging earlier than expected.

Over 120 new cases have been detected among bars and clubs popularly frequented by the city’s gay community. Secondary transmission is slowly on the rise as authorities urgently try to trace more than 3,000 people who could have possibly been exposed to infection. The 29-year-old man had visited five locations in Seoul’s popular Itaewon nightlife district earlier this month.

The Japan Times reported that this particular upsurge in cases has increased the level of homophobia and hate speech towards the LGBTQ community, which has complicated government efforts to find those who might need to be tested, placed under quarantine and treated.

Nightclubs which were in the process of reopening have now been temporarily closed.

The story of the index case was published by Kookmin Ilbo, a church-based newspaper, which emphasised the sexuality aspect of the resulted in torrents of homophobic language and messages on social media platforms blaming the man and the gay community.

The fear of stigma and discrimination has resulted in visitors to these bars and clubs becoming reluctant to come forward and get tested.

CBS News reported that a South Korea rights activist group has experienced a 70-fold increase in inbound inquiries, most from gay men who feared that they would lose their jobs if they were tested and needing to be quarantined.

In the wake of this upsurge, health authorities are struggling to reach many of the thousands possibly affected. Though contact information was provided, many were fake or calls were ignored.

Despite the possibility of being infected, the lack of legal protection from discriminatory action for such communities results in a large number of people unwilling and reluctant to come forward.

South Korea has long been held as an example of success in the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to its quick and decisive actions, it moved from the country with the most cases outside of China to around 10 new cases daily for a month.

However, a South Korean health official recently stated during a briefing for foreign media that a second wave was “inevitable”.

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