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US Forces Korea places Itaewon off-limits for Halloween amid coronavirus concerns

Popular night clubs in Seoul, South Korea, have notified customers that they will voluntarily close during the Halloween weekend as a precaution against the coronavirus.

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By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 28, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. military put the popular Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon off-limits for Halloween in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus in South Korea, officials said Wednesday.

South Koreans and foreigners traditionally celebrate Halloween by going bar hopping in costume in Itaewon and other popular neighborhoods in Seoul.

But authorities have expressed concern this year that partygoers may increase the risk of a superspreader event. Clubs in Itaewon, which is near Yongsan Garrison, were the source of a major outbreak in May.

The garrison commander for Camp Humphreys, Col. Michael Tremblay, said Itaewon will be off-limits to all personnel and civilians affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea from 3 p.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday.

“Don’t let us catch you up there. We’re going to have town patrols up there,” he said.

Tremblay also laid out rules for trick-or-treating, saying “no mask, no candy,” and that people handing out candy should wear gloves.

USFK recently eased coronavirus restrictions but has continued to ban personnel from visiting bars, clubs and other adults-only facilities that are considered high risk for the respiratory virus.

South Korean authorities also aren’t taking any chances. Police, food and drug officials will team up to visit entertainment facilities from 10 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday to enforce coronavirus prevention measures such as keeping entry logs and maintaining distances between tables, the Yonhap News Agency said.

Some large clubs in Itaewon, Hongdae and Gangnam also will close for Halloween weekend after consultations with health officials and local governments as a precaution against the virus, according to Yonhap.

The report cited customer notices and quoted an official at one club but didn’t identify any establishments or say how many would close.

Park Yoo-mi, a disease control official with the city government, was quoted as saying that any business caught violating the social distancing rules will face a two-week assembly ban.

South Korea has made inroads against the virus, with daily caseloads bouncing above and below 100 in recent weeks. But health authorities remain fearful of cluster infections. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 103 new cases on Wednesday for a total of 26,146, with 461 deaths.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel