State Department says Korea is totally safe to visit
The U.S. downgraded its travel advisory for Korea, raising hopes of a return of tourists.
The U.S. Department of State downgraded its warning about traveling to Korea to Level 1 Monday, which encourages visitors to “exercise normal precautions.”
The State Department uses a four-level travel advisory system to warn of potential risks — Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions, Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution, Level 3: Reconsider Travel, and Level 4: Do Not Travel.
Korea has been under the highest Level 4 travel advisory since Feb. 15, which has dramatically dropped to the lowest level.
This contrasts with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s own travel recommendation for Korea. It lowered Korea by a single notch to the second-highest level of warning.
On Monday, the CDC moved 90 countries, including Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, from its highest "Level 4: Do Not Travel" list to Level 3. This advises travelers who are not fully vaccinated to "avoid travel" to these destinations due to their "high level of Covid-19."
While the CDC’s travel recommendations are based on the impact on travelers' health of disease outbreaks, including the coronavirus, the State Department's comprehensively reflects terrorist activities, security threats and political and economic situations in addition to health.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the State Department changed its travel alerts in line with the CDC's advisories.
But in an April 14 notice on its website, the State Department said its travel advisory levels would no longer automatically correlate with the CDC's Covid-19 travel health notice level starting the next week. As a result, it announced it would downgrade all but 10 percent of the 120 countries that are classified Level 4.
While the State Department did not specify reasons for the lowered travel advisory for Korea, it is believed the slowed transmission of the virus and the lifting of quarantines for vaccinated arrivals had an effect.
Despite signs of normalization of the tourism industry, Korea confirmed its first case of the new Omicron variants XE and XM on Tuesday, in addition to the recent discovery of XL.
Health officials on Tuesday confirmed two cases of the so-called “recombinant” Omicron variant XE and one case of XM.
One of the XE variant cases was found in a Covid-19 patient who traveled from Britain and was confirmed on March 27, while the other was found in a local patient who tested positive in Korea on March 30.
The first XM patient, aged in their 60s, was also detected locally and tested positive on March 27.
The XE variant is known to spread about 10 faster than the newer “Stealth” BA.2 mutation, while the characteristics of the XM variant are not yet known.
While authorities are conducting contact tracing of the recombinant variant patients, Park Young-joon, head of the epidemiological investigation team at the Central Disease Control Headquarters, said Tuesday that "the possibility of the XE case and one of the two XM case to have occurred domestically is high enough."
Regarding the first case of XL confirmed last week, health authorities said there are 13 more Covid-19 patients who are epidemiologically linked.
On Tuesday, Korea’s daily Covid-19 cases jumped to 118,504, more than doubling from the previous day due to increased virus tests. They still showed a continuing downward trend, as cases dropped by 92,228 compared to last Tuesday.
The number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition went down by 16 from the day before to 834, while 130 more people died from the virus.
On Monday, Korea lifted all restrictions on private gathering sizes and a business curfew, only keeping its mask mandate. From April 25, visitors to indoor venues such as in movie theaters and sports stadiums will be allowed to eat food.
The Central Disease Control Headquarters said it plans to overhaul preventive measures in publicly used facilities such as disinfection, ventilation, and minimizing the time of people staying mask-less indoors.
In particular, authorities plan to strengthen measures in senior citizen centers and other indoor facilities frequently visited by the elderly.
Lee Sang-won, head of the epidemiological investigations team at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, said although distancing rules have been lifted and the daily Covid-19 case count is decreasing, “the Covid-19 pandemic has not ended,” and urged people to comply with basic preventive measures such as washing hands regularly and wearing masks.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]