Seoul orders all Japanese visitors to get visas, even diplomats

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Seoul orders all Japanese visitors to get visas, even diplomats

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People await check-in for flights to Japan at Gimpo International Airport on Sunday, hours before Korea was set to suspend its visa-waiver program for Japanese citizens starting Monday. [YONHAP]

All Japanese citizens will need visas to enter Korea starting today, announced the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs Friday in response to Tokyo’s slapping of quarantines on visitors from Korea over fears of the new coronavirus.

Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young said in a press briefing Friday evening that all foreign travelers coming from Japan will also have to undergo special entry procedures.

Cho announced the reciprocal measures after Tokyo announced Thursday mandatory two-week quarantines for visitors from Korea and China at designated facilities starting today. Japan also said it will restrict flights from the two countries to Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport. The measures are expected to last through this month.

Cho said the Korean government “once again expresses our deepest regret that Japan announced the measures unilaterally without prior consultation.”

Seoul is suspending its visa-waiver entry program that allows Japanese visitors to stay in Korea up to 90 days, and starting today will invalidate visas that have already been issued.

On Sunday, Korea’s Ministry of Justice said all Japanese citizens will be required to obtain new visas to enter Korea starting from 12:00 a.m. Sunday night, including those with diplomatic passports.

Korea will also raise the travel alert for Japan to Level 2 in a four-tier system, urging Koreans to refrain from visiting the country.

Seoul may also consider limiting flights from Japan to designated Korean airports.

Cho stressed that the Korean government “has been recognized for its transparent, democratic and effective quarantine system by the international community.”

Cho said Japan’s latest travel measures stemmed from a “lack of understanding” of Korea’s “advanced” quarantine system, while pointing to a “considerable lack of transparency” in Japan’s own handling of the coronavirus outbreak and a low rate of testing for the disease.

The Justice Ministry added it would strengthen rules for visa issuances at Korean consulates in Japan. All Japanese citizens seeking visas to enter Korea will now be required to submit a form on their health status and whether they have recently experienced symptoms associated with the coronavirus, like a high temperature, body chills or headaches.

“All our consulates in Japan will conduct sufficient reviews of visa applications before granting entry permits,” read the ministry’s statement. “Based on future developments, we may also require applicants to submit health certificates from medical centers.”

Independent of the visa measures, Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety and Ministry of Health and Welfare will deny entry to all foreigners coming from Japan deemed to be health risks.

The Japanese government has been criticized by health experts for its handling of the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama last month that resulted in some 700 infected passengers.

Japan had previously imposed an entry ban on visitors arriving from Daegu and Cheongdo County in North Gyeongsang, the areas most affected by the coronavirus in Korea.

Japan’s latest measures were close to a banning of Korean visitors.

Earlier Friday, Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha summoned Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Koji Tomita to protest Japan’s travel restrictions.

There are 103 countries with some form of entry ban or bolstered quarantine measures on travelers from Korea as of Friday.

The Korean Foreign Ministry on Friday briefed members of the diplomatic corps in Seoul on the efforts taken by the government to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We have the best diagnostic capabilities by far compared to any other country,” said Kang. “Currently, we are able to test 18,000 cases per day. That means one case every 4.8 seconds. We have also introduced drive-through testing stations.”

Korea’s measures affecting Japanese visitors represent yet another escalation of an ongoing diplomatic spat between the neighboring countries.

Last year, Japan imposed restrictions on the export to Korea of a number of strategic industrial materials as a result of a Korean Supreme Court decision ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean forced labor victims.

BY SARAH KIM, SHIM KYU-SEOK [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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