Twenty Vietnamese students living in a college dormitory in a central South Korean city have been diagnosed with COVID-19, local officials said on Wednesday, two days after the first Vietnamese infection case was confirmed there, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
The mass infection occurred at Ajou Motor College in Boryeong, a South Chungcheong Province city about 200 kilometers south of Seoul.
The college reported its first confirmed case on Monday, when a Vietnamese student living in its dormitory tested positive for the coronavirus.
Following the first case’s detection, municipal health authorities conducted coronavirus tests on everyone suspected of having come into contact with the first patient – 67 foreign dormitory residents, including 50 from Vietnam, 16 from Uzbekistan and one from Thailand, 64 South Korean dormitory residents, and 31 school personnel.
Through the tests, 20 Vietnamese students have been confirmed to be infected, the officials said, noting authorities are to administer coronavirus tests to all 400 other dormitory residents and school officials on Wednesday.
The municipal authorities are investigating the patients’ travel and infection routes, suspecting that the group infection may have occurred due to close contact in enclosed dormitory rooms.
According to some municipal officials, the infected Vietnamese students cooked and ate food together in a separate kitchen area within the dorm.
Notably, 13 of the infected Vietnamese students reportedly worked part-time at a restaurant on Daecheon Beach in the same city on a recent weekend, prompting authorities to disinfect the establishment and conduct coronavirus tests on its employees.
The Yonhap News Agency reported the mass infection as a rare coronavirus cluster of foreign nationals in Boryeong.
Boryeong, a city of slightly over 100,000 people that had reported only 34 confirmed cases prior to the college dorm cluster, raising its social distancing level to 2.5, the second highest in South Korea’s five-tier system, from the current 2, at noon Wednesday.
“The present situation is very grave. All citizens are required to cancel all year-end meetings and events, and thoroughly comply with quarantine and social distancing rules,” Yonhap quoted Boryeong Mayor Kim Dong-il as saying.
In recent weeks, a string of clusters of coronavirus infections have erupted at elderly nursing homes, churches, educational institutions, and other multiuse facilities throughout South Korea, as the East Asian country now reports over 1,000 new cases every day.