Frontline in Coronavirus Fight Moves to Arrivals from Abroad

  • By Heo Sang-woo, Yang Ji-ho

    March 27, 2020 09:47

    Korea is seeing a sharp increase in coronavirus infections among arrivals from the U.S. and Europe. On Tuesday, 2,241 people arrived from Europe and 2,265 from the U.S., mostly Korean expats fleeing the lockdown there.

    Starting Friday, any American visitors with telltale symptoms are being tested for coronavirus, but those without symptoms are simply told to quarantine themselves for two weeks. The same goes for visitors from Europe, while Koreans arriving from overseas without symptoms are asked to quarantine themselves for up to three days until they can be tested.

    Some 3,000 to 4,000 people without symptoms are expected to enter Korea every day and be placed in self-quarantine.

    Rates of infection are now higher in Europe and the U.S. than in China's Hubei Province, the epicenter of the pandemic. The government banned visitors from the province on Feb. 2 but has not banned travelers from the U.S. and Europe.

    When the government banned visitors from Hubei, the rate of infections there was 15.1 per 100,000 people. At present, the rate of infection in Europe is 29.5 per 100,000 and in the U.S. 15.8.

    Quarantine and entry limitations so far have been based on country-by-country and regional rates of coronavirus infection, but officials here said Thursday, "We do not determine entry bans or quarantine measures based on a single statistical figure."

    Travelers get checked for coronavirus at makeshift tents outside of Incheon International Airport on Thursday. /Yonhap

    Some 57 confirmed cases on Wednesday were people who were infected overseas, accounting for half of the 104 new cases. That means the forefront of the epidemic, which spread like wildfire among followers of the dubious Shincheonji sect in Daegu, is now shifting to arrivals from overseas.

    Until Tuesday, when the government stepped up quarantine of arrivals from Europe, 3,514 people were put in self-quarantine. The total number of people placed in self-quarantine fell below 10,000 here recently but grew again to 12,000 on Thursday and is expected to rise by 2,000 to 3,000 every day.

    Provincial governments were told on Wednesday of the 3,514 people who were placed in self-quarantine after arriving from Europe, resulting in a delay in efforts to keep tabs on them. No steps have been taken to track arrivals from the U.S. and Europe who show no symptoms.

    Health officials are distributing masks and gloves at the airport, but epidemiologists say potential carriers should be quarantined and monitored.

    Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Thursday, "People who violate self-quarantine measures without good reason will face zero tolerance and possible prosecution if they are Korean nationals, while foreigners should be deported."

    Those put in self-quarantine can leave their homes only with authorization from quarantine officials in charge of monitoring them. Violators will be reported to the police. Authorities said they will deny entry to all arrivals who refuse to install an app that allows health officials to track their whereabouts. At present, only 60 percent of arrivals from overseas have installed the app.

    Peck Kyong-ran, the head at the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases, pleaded with the government on Thursday to "prohibit the entry of foreigners."

    "It has become difficult to treat our own citizens and medical staff have grown weary," she said on Facebook, adding the suspicion that some foreigners are coming to Korea to seek free treatment.

    So far, 170 countries have banned Korean nationals, but Korea prohibits entry only to visitors from Hubei Province.

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