SEOUL, May 8 (UPI) -- Just days after South Korea loosened its social distancing guidelines, a new COVID-19 cluster of infections has sprung up in the capital city of Seoul tied to several nightclubs and bars.
Health officials announced 13 additional cases on Friday that have been connected to a 29-year-old man who visited five nightlife venues in Seoul's multicultural Itaewon neighborhood last weekend and warned that there would likely be more to come.
"We believe we will have another community infection," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said at a press briefing on Friday. "The spread took place in enclosed and crowded spaces. Transmission with no known source of infection can lead to a widespread cluster infection and that is why the government is not letting its guard down."
Authorities said the man visited clubs and bars late last week before noticing any symptoms of the respiratory illness. He tested positive on Wednesday and was admitted to a hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul.
Fifteen cases overall have been connected to the man, including himself, a co-worker and 12 people who were out at clubs on the same night. Officials estimate that he may have come into contact with more than 1,500 people across the five venues last weekend, adding to concern that there could be a significant number of new infections on the horizon.
Health authorities are continuing to track down visitors at the clubs and publicly urged anyone who attended the venues on the same night to self-isolate and report any COVID-19 symptoms.
Seoul city officials said at a separate briefing Friday that they would use CCTV and credit card records to help identify visitors.
In response to the new outbreak, the government issued a nationwide health advisory that encourages bars and nightclubs to suspend operations for another month.
The country began a period of "everyday life quarantine" on Wednesday, which eased social distancing guidelines and allowed an increase in social and economic activity. Authorities were closely watching for any outbreaks tied to a long holiday weekend last week that led to heavy domestic travel.
Friday's newly announced cases tied to the spreader came in addition to a regular daily update of 12 new cases Thursday, most of which originated from overseas arrivals. South Korea's total number of infections rose to 10,822 with 256 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While South Korea was the first country after China to see widespread local transmission of the coronavirus, with a February outbreak centered around the southeastern city of Daegu, officials managed to dramatically flatten the curve of new infections through early and aggressive testing and contact tracing.
As new cases have declined, South Korea has allowed venues like recreational facilities, nightclubs, places of worship and museums to reopen.
Professional baseball returned Tuesday without fans as the Korean Baseball Organization kicked off its 2020 season. Schools will also start reopening next week, with high school seniors returning to class on Wednesday and other grades resuming in a phased process throughout the rest of the month.