Many New COVID-19 Patients Still Arrive from Abroad

  • By Yang Ji-ho, Heo Sang-woo

    March 20, 2020 12:14

    More than seven percent of new coronavirus cases over the last four days in Korea were travelers from abroad.

    According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, 29 of 403 new cases from March 15 to Wednesday were entrants from overseas. The number of infections among overseas travelers has been rising sharply since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11.

    The government has expanded entry restrictions to all travelers from abroad. Koreans and foreign travelers from abroad must have their temperature checked on arrival and fill out questionnaire on their health. They also have to download a self-diagnosis app and report daily for two weeks.

    Travelers wait in line for coronavirus screening at Incheon International Airport on Thursday. /Yonhap

    But experts say that is not enough to prevent spread of the virus. Health authorities have admitted that screening cannot pick out carriers with mild or no symptoms. Only 16 of the infected travelers from abroad were identified during entry procedures, according to the KCDC, while the rest tested positive when they were already in the country and may have unwittingly spread the virus.

    On Thursday, health authorities urged all entrants to quarantine themselves voluntarily for two weeks, but experts recommend obligatory self-quarantine.

    Some 12,000 to 13,000 people have entered Korea every day over the last four days, and only 1,600 to 2,700 went through tougher screening. This was expanded to all arrivals on Thursday, raising concerns about a shortage of space to accommodate suspected carriers.

    Incheon International Airport has a facility with about 50 rooms for suspected cases, and health authorities said that they will use an extra facility with another 70 rooms there. But even 120 may not be enough.

    Meanwhile, total confirmed cases of coronavirus in Korea stood at 8,652 on Friday morning with 94 deaths.

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