Washington ‘very impressed’ with Seoul

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Washington ‘very impressed’ with Seoul

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said Wednesday in a meeting with Seoul’s vice foreign minister that Washington is “very impressed” with Korea’s efforts to combat the spread of the new coronavirus and “trusts” the comprehensive measures currently in place.

On Wednesday afternoon, Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and Harris held talks for around 30 minutes at the Foreign Ministry in central Seoul to discuss the coronavirus situation.

Cho, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry in a statement, briefed Harris on the Korean measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and asked for the United States to continue to maintain the cooperative system so that the “personnel exchanges between the two countries are not seriously impacted.”

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory warning Americans not to travel to Daegu, the city with the highest concentration of coronavirus cases in Korea.

As of Wednesday, a total of 94 countries and territories are imposing some form of entry ban or stricter quarantine procedures for people coming from South Korea amid the coronavirus outbreak. But while U.S. authorities have called for medical checks for travelers flying in from South Korea and Italy, it has stopped short of issuing an entry ban on those countries.

Cho in his opening remarks thanked Harris for “making a fair case in Washington” on the Korean government’s efforts in curbing the spread of the virus. Harris last week attended a conference of chiefs of missions in Washington.

“Well, I think it’s indicative of the fact that Korea’s leading in the global fight,” Harris replied. “We’re very impressed with all that Korea’s doing,” referring to the nation’s comprehensive measures and testing. He added that “coordination between our two countries is very important” and is “causing good results.”

Harris said he will “continue to trust the Korean government’s active and comprehensive measures” to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the ministry.

Cho likewise agreed to “closely work together” to overcome the virus.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday in Washington that “additional decisions” will be made regarding further travel restrictions.

He also told reporters, “We’re watching Italy very closely, South Korea very closely, even Japan very closely. And we’ll make the right determination at the right time,” noting they “are the hotspots right now.”

David Pekoske, the chief of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday that “additional countries” will be facing travel restrictions to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and that they will be announced “relatively soon.”

So far, the United States has banned the entry of people coming from China and Iran while Americans who have been to China and Iran in the past two weeks will have to undergo medical screenings at 11 designated airports.

According to the TSA, all travelers flying directly to the United States from Korea and Italy will be screened for fevers and those with a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) will not be allowed to board the plane. They will also be checked for any symptoms of the virus such as coughing or if they have visited a medical facility in areas at risk.

Korean carriers Korean Air and Asiana Air have already been screening passengers to the United States since Tuesday.

There are 33 countries and territories barring the entry of people who recently visited Korea, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The latest addition includes Qatar, which has barred entry to any foreign visitors who have been in Korea and other affected countries in the past month while it calls for a 14-day quarantine at a designated facility for those with residential permits.

The Foreign Ministry has been updating their list of countries and territories with travel restrictions on Korea at least twice a day, and the categories and measures have been changing overnight.

Most of Korea’s top trading partners, including parts of China and Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam, have some form of travel restrictions on Korea.

India has also suspended visas from Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, countries most affected by the virus.

Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha this week held a series of phone conversations with her counterparts in countries including Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Iraq and El Salvador to discuss the coronavirus matter.

In her phone conversation with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Kang expressed “regret” on India’s measures affecting Korean travelers, including the suspension of visas on arrival, and requested the government to refrain from taking any additional “restrictive measures or tightening relevant procedures.”

Jaishankar was said to have “highly commended” Korea’s transparent and efficient response efforts.

SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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