Harris lauds Korea’s efforts as ‘exemplar’

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Harris lauds Korea’s efforts as ‘exemplar’

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U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris, wearing a black face mask, is briefed by an official on the quarantine procedure for passengers bound for the United States at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday as the Korean government began to conduct health checks as part of stepped-up efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19. [KIM SEONG-RYONG]

U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris said that the Korean model to contain the spread of the new coronavirus is “exemplar” after observing health check procedures at the Incheon International Airport on passengers heading to the United States on Wednesday.

Harris visited a boarding gate at the airport’s Terminal 2 where officials took the temperatures of passengers about to board a Korean Air plane heading to Atlanta around 8:30 a.m. that morning. Harris received a briefing about the screening process, observed a thermal imaging camera and also got his temperature checked.

Harris, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in a statement, said that the Americans appreciate the “hard work” of the airport staff “as Korea works to limit the spread of [the new coronavirus] worldwide.”

He added, “The Korean model is held up as the exemplar around the world.”

The Korean model of combating the spread of the coronavirus through conducting swift and extensive diagnostic tests and disclosing information to the public in an open and transparent manner has been praised by foreign experts and officials.

Starting Wednesday, the Korean government took over the health screening process from airlines for U.S.-bound passengers at Incheon and Gimhae International Airport in Busan.

The three-level screening process at Incheon airport begins before entering the departure terminal and continues at check-in and before boarding the plane.

Passengers heading to the United States are to undergo fever checks and fill out health questionnaires and will not be able to board if they have temperatures of 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher.

The Korean government starting midnight Wednesday has also bolstered the screening of departures and is blocking passengers who have visited the Daegu and North Gyeongsang region which have been most affected by the coronavirus or visited hospitals that have been infected in the past two weeks from boarding flights.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month raised its travel advisory to Level 4, the highest in its four-tier system, urging Americans not to travel to Daegu in southeastern Korea, and parts of Italy, because of the increased number of coronavirus cases. However, it did not impose a ban on the entry of travelers from Korea and Italy and instead said there would be health checks on passengers leaving those countries.

The U.S. Embassy said that it maintains “close contact with partners” at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), U.S. Forces Korea and relevant U.S. government agencies.

It added in a statement, “Such strong international cooperation is what will defeat this disease.”

Harris earlier this month visited Washington for a conference of chiefs of missions and had dinner with Korean Ambassador to the United States Lee Soo-hyuck, which he said on a Twitter post last Saturday included talks on the bilateral alliance, Covid-19 and “other key bilateral issues.”

Last week, Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and Harris met at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul to discuss cooperation on containing the spread of the coronavirus, and during this talk, Cho thanked the U.S. ambassador for “making a fair case in Washington” on the Korean government’s efforts.

Harris first expressed wishes to see the quarantine procedures at the airport in person, according to Korean Foreign Ministry officials, which led to the arranging of the visit through coordination with related agencies.

Harris later posted a tweet stating he had a “Terrific visit to Incheon Airport” to see firsthand the Korea government’s measures to combat Covid-19 and the management of travelers heading to the United States.

He added, “Impressed pressed w/ROK’s robust & comprehensive response efforts to limit the virus’ spread. Thanks to all for the hard work.”

Harris also posted a Korean version of the tweet with a hashtag in Korean translation of the tweet stating “Cheering on the Republic of Korea.”

Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and senior Seoul officials have encouraged members of the diplomatic corps in Korea to visit the airport and see the screening process for passengers for themselves. The Foreign Ministry plans to support the arranging of such visits.

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

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