Countries start sending Koreans home or isolating themThe United States warned against unnecessary travel to Korea, as more countries tighten travel restrictions or close their doors to Koreans in response to the surge in coronavirus cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday warned Americans to “avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea,” raising the warning level to the highest, Level 3. The CDC noted that there is a “widespread, ongoing outbreak” of the coronavirus that can be spread from person to person and that older people and those with chronic medical conditions may be at increased risk.
On Saturday, the United States raised its alert to Level 2, advising “enhanced precaution.”
There has been a surge in new coronavirus cases and deaths outside of China, with sudden outbreaks in Iran and Italy. Korea is now the country with the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases outside mainland China, with over 970 as of Tuesday. Most of the cases can be linked to a minor Christian sect, the Shincheonji church, in Daegu, and Daenam Hospital in North Gyeongsang’s Cheongdo County.
Globally, there are over 80,100 confirmed cases of the virus, officially called Covid-19, which originated in Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, and over 2,700 deaths. Over 77,600 coronavirus cases and more than 2,660 deaths are reported from mainland China.
Hong Kong implemented from Tuesday morning a ban on travelers who have been in Korea in the past 14 days, while residents returning from Korea will have to undergo a two-week quarantine. Authorities there announced the entry ban Monday and also warned against all non-essential travel to Korea.
Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Kiribati, Nauru and Mauritius have also implemented travel bans on Koreans as of Tuesday, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ministry listed 16 other countries and territories with some form of travel restriction on travelers from Korea including self-quarantine or health checks including Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Britain, Oman, Qatar, Samoa and American Samoa.
Thus, Koreans are increasingly concerned about travel plans and could face canceled flights, unexpected quarantines or entry bans. They could also be the target of discrimination.
On Tuesday, Chinese airport authorities in Weihai, Shandong Province, quarantined all passengers landing on a Jeju Air flight from Korea, according to diplomatic sources in Seoul.
The flight, which landed at Weihai Dashuibo Airport from Incheon International Airport around 10:50 a.m., carried 167 passengers - 19 Koreans, 144 Chinese and four travelers of other nationalities. Airport authorities ordered all passengers quarantined for up to 14 days in a designated hotel.
This was the first time Chinese airport authorities enforced such a mandatory quarantine on all passengers from Korea.
Weihai is just two days away from being declared an area clear of the virus with 12 days of no additional cases, which is why the city authorities are taking such extreme measures.
Qingdao in Shandong Province, a popular destination for Koreans, is also adopting stricter measures amid the surge in infections in Korea, asking all foreign visitors to either undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine at home or to stay in designated hotels.
“China is where Covid-19 originated, and cities and provinces within the country are implementing strict control measures,” said Kim In-chul, a spokesman for Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, in a briefing Tuesday when asked about the passengers in Weihai.
In the past several days, Korean pilgrims have been abruptly turned away from Israel, while newlywed couples headed to Mauritius spent their honeymoons quarantined. Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been lodging protests with countries implementing measures against Korean visitors without prior notice. Following the implementation of the entry ban on Korea by Israeli authorities, a total of 400 Korean tourists were sent back home on two chartered flights Tuesday. The first group of some 220 Korean tourists returned to Incheon International Airport on an El Al Israel Airlines chartered flight on Tuesday morning. The second group of over 190 passengers returned later on that day.
On Saturday, Israeli authorities did not allow some 130 Koreans on a Korean Air Lines flight to disembark after arriving in Tel Aviv, without prior notice, and sent them back on the plane - leading Seoul’s Foreign Ministry to lodge a complaint.
The measure came after members of a group of Korean Catholic pilgrims from North Gyeongsang who made a trip to Israel earlier this month tested positive for the virus upon their return to Korea. Israel on Sunday announced an entry ban on all foreigners who have traveled to Korea or Japan.
On Monday, 17 pairs of Korean newlyweds headed to the island nation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean were abruptly quarantined after some passengers showed cold symptoms. Two couples, including a pregnant woman, were sent to a local hospital while the others were isolated in a bleak facility.
The Mauritius government made a decision later Monday to ban entry of all foreigners who have been in Korea in the past 14 days. In Vietnam, the Da Nang provincial government put all passengers, including 20 Koreans, arriving from Daegu on a VietJet Air flight into temporary quarantine in a local hospital Monday without prior notice.
The Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday evening that it strongly protested the move through diplomatic channels and said measures that are extreme and disadvantageous to Korean nationals should be avoided. The Vietnamese government requested understanding from Seoul, calling it an “inevitable measure” to cope with the fast-spreading virus.
Taiwanese health authorities announced Monday that all foreign travelers coming from Korea will have to undergo quarantine for 14 days starting Tuesday. Taiwan also raised its travel advisory for Korea one notch to the highest Level 3, urging people to avoid unnecessary travel to the country. Thailand is requiring those who visited the Daegu and North Gyeongsang regions and exhibit symptoms to undergo mandatory testing. Singapore also advised its people to avoid non-essential trips to Daegu and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang and to “exercise caution” when traveling to other parts of Korea.
Japan also advised against travel to Daegu and Cheongdo after raising its alert to Level 2 against those parts in Korea. Australia and New Zealand on Sunday raised their travel alerts to Daegu and Cheongdo to Level 3 in a four-tier system and Level 2 for the rest of Korea. Canada also raised its travel alert to Level 2 from the lowest tier. Mongolia - after closing its borders with China last month - banned all flights to and from Korea from Tuesday until March 2. Qatar also announced similar Korean flight bans. The South China Morning Post reported that four major Hong Kong tour operators on Monday axed all trips to Korea until the end of March, affecting travel plans of more than 3,200 tourists.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]