Korea Tightens Screening of Arrivals from U.S.

      March 26, 2020 11:14

      All travelers from the U.S. will be tested for coronavirus on arrival at Incheon International Airport from Friday if they show symptoms. Those without symptoms will have to quarantine themselves for two weeks and must install a self-diagnosis app on their phones. Health authorities said they may consider testing all arrivals from the U.S. later if the situation gets worse.

      Some 2,400 travelers arrived from the U.S. on average a day for the last three days. But resources are already overstretched and the government has downscaled entry screening for travelers from Europe because airport facilities could not cope.

      Asked why it is taking different approaches to travelers from the U.S. and Europe, the government cited "different levels of epidemic risks" in the two regions.

      "We took the latest measure because the tally of coronavirus cases continues to spike in the U.S. and an increasing number of arrivals from the U.S. have tested positive," a spokesman said Wednesday.

      Travelers wait for their coronavirus test results at Incheon International Airport on Monday. /Yonhap

      As of early Wednesday morning, 49 people arriving from North America had tested positive here, compared to just two on March 18. As of March 22, 3,001 travelers had arrived from the U.S. and Canada, 472 of them foreigners.

      There are more than 65,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. Here, altogether 227 arrivals from overseas had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday.

      Ma Sang-hyuk of the doctors' association in South Gyeongsang Province said, "There's an excess of complicated screening measures as a result of the government's reluctance to enforce strict entry restrictions in a bid not to admit its earlier failure to ban travelers from China."

      "This kind of chaos wouldn't have been created if the government had restricted foreign visitors and put all arrivals under mandatory self-quarantine from the beginning," he added.

      If all 2,400 daily arrivals from the U.S. are tested, the government will have to shoulder W384 million in costs a day at W160,000 per person or W11.5 billion a month, (US$1=W1,232). Foreigners account for about 16 percent of them.

      The government already reversed an earlier decision to give W212,300 in living expenses to those who do not have homes here but have quarantine themselves for two weeks. There are worries about other snowballing costs, including hospital expenses amounting to an average of W4 million per patient for a two-week stay and public health staff who monitor people in self-quarantine.

      The government is also reportedly considering providing buses for arrivals with no telltale symptoms to prevent the spread of the disease. Travelers from Europe and the U.S. who have no place to stay will be put in quarantine at facilities run by local governments.

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