South Korea’s efforts to trace and test thousands of people after a rise in new coronavirus infections linked to nightclubs and bars in Seoul’s Itaewon district has sparked unhappiness among expatriate teachers that their right to privacy is being breached. On social media , foreigners teaching in South Korean schools complained their employers were asking them to surrender their credit card details to confirm they were not among the partygoers in Itaewon at the start of this month. K-pop star ‘regrets’ dancing at nightclub linked to Covid-19 cluster Teachers, including foreigners who teach English at schools or private language institutes, have come under scrutiny after the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said 158 people working at schools in the capital, including 53 foreigners, had reported to authorities that they visited Itaewon and other entertainment districts during the April 29-May 6 period when there was a long weekend. Scores of other foreigners working at schools in other provincial cities, including 20 in the second-largest city of Busan, also visited Itaewon during the period, it said. Authorities in Incheon, a city west of Seoul, said they would pursue a criminal complaint against one infected teacher – a Korean – who had lied about his workplace and infected at least eight others including students and parents. Health authorities said as of Thursday, at least 20 cases of Covid-19 were linked to the nightspots, and 133 more were linked to that outbreak. More than 22,000 people have been tested since the cluster emerged including 1,200 foreigners, with authorities using mobile phone data to identify and locate them. Officials said they were still trying to locate about 2,500 people, and pledge to reduce the amount of information usually released about confirmed patients even as they warned those who ignored calls to be tested could be fined up to 2 million won (US$1,630). Seoul mayor Park Won-soon said authorities had secured from mobile operators a list of more than 10,000 mobile users including 1,200 foreigners who had spent more than 30 minutes in Itaewon during the long holidays to trace all visitors to Itaewon so they could be tested. They were sent text messages either in Korean or in English depending on their nationality. As of Thursday, South had recorded 10,991 infections and 260 casualties. The new outbreak at Itaewon forced South Korean authorities to put off the reopening of schools by a week to no earlier than May 20 as parents posted panicked messages fearing that their children might be infected by young teachers, particularly foreign ones. Health authorities told all employees at schools and private cram schools known as hakwons who visited Itaewon during the same period to receive tests. So far, no foreign teacher has tested positive. There have been fears that because some of the establishments in Itaewon under the microscope are gay bars, partygoers could face discrimination if their identity is revealed. To address this concern, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun assured people that testing would be anonymous and identities would not be revealed. “Except for asking if people visited Itaewon, we will ask nothing to prevent their identities from being revealed in the testing process,” he said. “Even if people test positive for the virus, we will delete detailed personal data and disclose minimal information about their routes.” But at least one Facebook user on a page used by members of South Korea’s gay community said this was not the case. He said he had been tested and that the school he teaches at had learned the result before he did. South Korea LGBT stigma complicates coronavirus testing as new cases rise “There is zero patient confidentiality with foreigners; bosses and schools simply call the testing centre and request your results over the phone,” he said. “What started as a gay witch hunt is now also evolving into run of the mill xenophobia. Parents are now demanding that foreign teachers be quarantined or else they will refuse to send their children to school.” On the same Facebook page, another user said she knew of two people who had been tested in hospital but weren’t informed of their negative result. Instead, it was the Office of Education that informed them. “On the subject of privacy, or lack thereof, our employer also demanded that we provide our bank statements showing places visited, date and time, etc, under threat of contract termination. We work for public schools,” she said. Francis Munene, a 31-year-old from Kenya who recently graduated after studying international relations and security in Seoul, was standing in line outside a test site at Yongsan County near Itaewon on Wednesday, with the obligatory face mask covering his nose and mouth. “I feel safer living here than other countries,” he said, adding he voluntarily took a test because he uses buses and subways and was concerned about his safety. He said his foreign friends working at schools had been asked to take tests, but so too had their Korean colleagues, and he did not feel they had been discriminated against. “I don’t think I am being discriminated against in this country because I am foreigner,” he said. Vice-Health Minister Kim said South Korea, which has managed to control infections through a mix of contact tracing, aggressive testing and social distancing, would continue with its rollback of measures because the daily number of new cases remained below 50 and officials were able to trace 95 per cent of all infections. “For now, we will still monitor how the current transmissions go and review whether we should reconsider our distancing policy,” Kim said. The director of the KCDC Jeong Eun-kyeong said the centre was carrying out epidemiological surveys in areas other than Itaewon, including two bars in Hongdae and Sinchon, both popular hang-out spots for youngsters. “The biggest problem with Covid-19 is its silent transmission,” Jeong said. “Nearly 30 per cent of the new patients are in their 20s, are very active and carry greater risks of infecting others even when they’re not showing any symptoms.” Additional reporting by Reuters Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.