Worshippers wearing face masks attend a prayer ceremony entitled 'overcoming and healing the COVID-19 coronavirus', while marking Buddha's birthday at the Jogye Temple in Seoul on April 30, 2020.
ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images
  • The South Korea LGBTQ community fears discrimination after a reported spike in coronavirus cases has linked to a 29-year-old man who visited nightclubs in the gay district of the capital.
  • As of May 9, the country confirmed 18 new coronavirus cases - the first time in five days that the number jumped above 10.
  • But local news reports have focused on details about the outbreak occurring in the gay district of Itaewon in the capital, causing anti-gay rhetoric on social media.
  • While homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea, discrimination of the LGBTQ community is widespread.
  • The country's rigorous "track and trace" model has caused fear in the LGBTQ community that people will be forced to out themselves.
  • Some local news organisation later changed the headlines, removing references to "gay bars."
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The LGBTQ community in South Korea fears a rise in discrimination after a reported new spike in coronavirus cases was linked to a man who attended night clubs in Seoul's gay district and later tested positive for the disease.

As of Saturday, May 9, South Korea confirmed 18 new coronavirus cases - the first time in five days that the number jumped above 10. Most of the cases originated in the popular Itaewon district in Seoul, where a 29-year-old man visited three nightclubs before testing positive for the virus.

The man tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, May 7, while an additional 14 people with who he had contact were also infected on Friday.

The 29-year-old could have also infected an estimated 2,000 people after he also walked around Seoul and other neighbouring provinces, including Gyeonggi and Gangwon, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, according to Reuters.

But the new reports have left the LGBTQ community fearful of discrimination after several local media organisations have sensationalised details about the outbreak occurring in the gay district of the capital.

After the major media outlet Kookmin Ilbo ran the story of the man visiting the gay nightclubs, a social media storm ensued. The terms "gay" and "Itaewon corona" were trending on South Korea's Naver web search portal.

Some social media users also posted videos of the bars and clubs in the district, urging followers for donations "to help put a stop to these disgusting goings-on," according to The Guardian.

While homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea and there is a growing acceptance for the community, discrimination remains widespread.

The news reports of the new outbreak also included the age, gender, location, and movements of the 29-year-old-man, according to Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights in Korea.

The South Korea government, which announced last week that it would relax social distancing restrictions on May 6, has been praised for its "track and trace" model during the coronavirus pandemic.

But it hasn't come without privacy concerns. The country has taken a high-tech approach, which includes using apps and bracelets to track a patient's whereabouts. This rigorous tracking approach has caused fear in the LGBTQ community that people will be forced to out themselves.

Most gay people in the country choose to keep their sexuality hidden from family members and colleagues, the Guardian reported.

"It is not just unhelpful to disclose information of an individual's movement for prevention efforts, but also a serious human rights violation that invades the individual's privacy and has him outed to society," the group told Reuters.

The fear of being outed could also stop people from coming forward and getting tested, according to a health expert cited in VICE.

Some local news organisation later changed the headlines, removing references to "gay bars" but did not apologise.

On Friday, the South Korean government urged bars and clubs to hold back on opening for one more month. It is also asking anyone who attended the clubs over the weekend to get tested.

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