April 09, 2020 09:41
Korea will ban the visa-free entry for visitors from countries that have banned Koreans during the coronavirus epidemic.
In a meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said, "We're suspending visa waivers for travelers from countries that are banning Koreans and also restricting non-essential foreign visitors."
The decision was welcomed by many as overdue even though it looks motivated by patriotic peeve rather than epidemiological reasoning. Back in late February, President Moon Jae-in said that it was meaningless to shut doors to foreigners now that the coronavirus had already spread far and wide.
Korea has visa-waiver agreements with 69 countries and grants visa-free entry to visitors from another 47. But picking only on those that ban Koreans means some others where the virus is rampant are slipping through the net.
Americans and Chinese take up the largest proportion of foreigners arriving recently, but neither are included in the ban. The U.S. suspended interviews for long-stay visas last month but has not banned Korean tourists or those who already have valid visas. The U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus infections in the world with 390,000, but arrivals from America will still be admitted here.
China is not on the list of visa waiver countries in the first place. On March 28, China banned all foreigners including Koreans.
The government has so far kept its doors open to travelers from all countries except the Chinese province of Hubei. Over the past 80 days, the number of countries that have banned or restricted entry to Koreans has grown to 181.
Chung also said that non-essential foreign travelers will be restricted, but only 120 to 130 foreigners a day arrive for a stay of less than 90 days for tourism or business purposes.
Choi Jae-wook at Korea University said, "This looks like a political decision made ahead of the general election to avoid criticism of the government's failure in quarantine efforts rather than an epidemiological decision."
Meanwhile, the number of people in self-quarantine reached 49,064 as of Tuesday, a 2.4-fold increase from 20,780 on March 31, as all arrivals from abroad have been forced to quarantine themselves since April 1.
The government expects the number to swell to 90,000. The country's capacity to quarantine short-term visitors who have no permanent residence here is reaching its limit. The total death toll reached 204 on Wednesday afternoon, bringing the fatality rate on paper to 1.96 percent.
Meanwhile, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said confirmed infections rose by 39 to 10,423 as of Thursday morning, many among arrivals from overseas.
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