U.S. warns of Korea risk, Israel turns back jet

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U.S. warns of Korea risk, Israel turns back jet

The U.S. State Department on Saturday elevated its warning about traveling to Korea to Level 2, cautioning potential visitors about a “sustained community spread” of the novel coronavirus in the country.

According to the department’s official website, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) also issued its own notice to U.S. citizens traveling to or within Korea advising them to “exercise increased caution” with regards to the virus, which as of Sunday had infected 602 people in Korea.

“If suspected to have the coronavirus in South Korea, you may face travel delays, quarantine, and extremely expensive medical costs,” the State Department warning read.

The same escalated travel advisory was issued for Japan, which reported 769 infections by Sunday’s count, including patients from the cruise ship Diamond Princess.

The State Department’s travel advisory for China, where the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan in Hubei Province in December, is at the highest level - Level 4 - which urges travelers not to visit the country.

Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed in a briefing to reporters that the Level 2 advisory served as a mere caution to U.S. citizens and was not a prohibition on traveling to Korea or Japan.

The measure would not affect any Koreans trying to enter the United States, the Foreign Ministry added.

Other countries have enforced far tougher measures in response to the recent spike in coronavirus cases in Korea.

On Sunday, the Israeli government officially issued an entry ban on foreign citizens coming from Korea and Japan starting Monday.

Israel has already banned visitors coming from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Thailand.

A plane from Korea that landed in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport Saturday evening, carrying some 200 non-Israelis, was refused entry and forced to return to Korea with nearly all its original passengers just two hours later.

Several media outlets in Korea, citing the Israeli Travel Ministry’s office in Seoul, reported Sunday that Israel would also confine all 1,600 or so Koreans currently on Israeli soil to their current lodgings for 14 days, the amount of time the virus is believed to incubate in a human body.

Korea’s Foreign Ministry denied the allegation, saying it confirmed with the Israeli government that no such measure would be enforced. The ministry added that it lodged a complaint with the Israeli government about the latter’s refusal to admit the passengers of Saturday’s flight from Korea.

The controversy follows confirmations by Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare that 18 out of a group of 39 Korean Catholics from North Gyeongsang who returned from a pilgrimage to Israel from Feb. 8 to 16 tested positive for the virus. Another group of 37 Korean pilgrims from Jeju also visited Israel from Feb. 11 to 21, with one of them currently undergoing testing after reporting symptoms.

Israel’s Health Ministry said 30 Israeli students who had contact with the first group would be quarantined and tested for the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, Israel has one confirmed coronavirus case.

Israel is a popular pilgrimage destination for Korean Christians, receiving around 20,000 to 30,000 Koreans every year, according to statistics from travel agencies in Korea.

Bahrain, an island state in the Persian Gulf, also enforced an entry ban on all foreign visitors coming from Korea and other virus-affected countries from Friday.

A host of other countries, including Britain, Brunei, Oman, Ethiopia and Uganda, have also stepped up monitoring efforts on Koreans, with some of these countries requiring Korean visitors be quarantined upon entry.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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