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[PyeongChang 2018] Quarantined Olympic staff cry foul

47 patients stuck in a youth center where norovirus outbreak started

Dozens of Olympic staff who are locked up at a remote youth training facility due to norovirus infection have blamed the organizers for the spread of the sickness in Gangwon Province, accusing them of “irresponsible action.” 

One of the quarantine rooms at a youth training facility in PyeongChang where Olympic personnel who have caught norovirus are being kept. Bak Se-hwan/The Korea Herald
One of the quarantine rooms at a youth training facility in PyeongChang where Olympic personnel who have caught norovirus are being kept. Bak Se-hwan/The Korea Herald

Five support staff interviewed by The Korea Herald at the facility in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, said they had “heard from no one when they should get back to work or be released from quarantine.”

They described lax quarantine procedures, with little to stop people coming and going from the facility.

It is also uncertain whether personnel in quarantine will get paid for their time in isolation.

“We just came here to work and earn money,” one of the workers in his early 20s spoke on condition of anonymity. “I’ve been in quarantine since Feb. 2, but they have given me no specific instruction on what to do. They’re just telling us to wait.”

The Horeb Youth Center, where the outbreak originated and staff stayed from February ahead of the event, is housing 47 patients as of Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, a total of 194 cases of norovirus were confirmed, including infections outside the facility, said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No athletes so far have tested negative for the virus.

“Olympic workers, including myself, have to be taken off the job until we get negative test results. I want to return to work to pay for my college,” added the worker, who came from the coastal city of Busan.

Another Olympic worker, 24, accused the organizers of a lack of information on how much money they could receive for their time in quarantine.

“It’s a virus that cannot be treated with antibiotics, and I get that,” the worker said. “But at least they should explain to us whether we will get paid if we continue to stay in quarantine.”

Some of the segregated staff did not show any sign of sickness, but were repeatedly told to wait until they test negative for infection, according to the workers. Norovirus can infect some people without symptoms.

The disease control authority announced Tuesday in its interim report that the outbreak of norovirus infections in the Olympic host town of PyeongChang was likely caused by contaminated cooking water at the facility.

In the epidemiological probe it launched last week, the authority said 94 of the 1,014 people who used the facility tested positive for the virus.

Those who had food from the center were 6.5 times more likely to be infected with the virus than those who did not eat meals there, the report added. The personnel who later tested negative returned to work.

To stop the outbreak, Kim Hyun-jun, head of the disease authority, said it would continue to quarantine patients and take measures ranging from diagnosis to treatment. He told reporters last week that “we’re going to minimize this outbreak.”

“The disease control officials should have shut the facility from outside at the earlier stage of the outbreak just days before the 2018 Games began,” an anonymous official from the PyeongChang Organizing Committee told The Korea Herald.

“As you can see, anyone can come in (to the Horeb Youth Center) without an identification check. Even the infected patients here often sneak out of the place for dinner,” the official added.

By Bak Se-hwan (