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S. Korea to impose two-week quarantine on all overseas arrivals

Special quarantine line at Incheon International Airport (Yonhap)
Special quarantine line at Incheon International Airport (Yonhap)

All overseas arrivals to South Korea -- Korean nationals and foreigners alike -- will be subject to a mandatory two-week quarantine starting Wednesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced Sunday, amid growing concerns about imported coronavirus infections.
 
Those with no residence in Korea will be quarantined at government-designated facilities at their own expense, he added. The fee is estimated to be around 100,000 won ($82.50) a day.
 
“The government has strengthened quarantine measures on arrivals from Europe and the US, but considering the unprecedented speed of the virus spread globally, we need additional measures,” Chung said during a government meeting on COVID-19.
 
The latest measure arrives as Korea is seeing a spike in imported cases, amid an overall slowdown in domestic transmissions.
 
A total of 105 new cases were reported Saturday, bringing the nation’s total to 9,583, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The daily tally saw a drop from the previous day’s 146. Eight more people died, six in their 80s and two in their 70s, putting the nationwide death toll at 152. The fatality rate stood at 1.59 percent.
 
Of the new cases, 41, or 39 percent, arrived from overseas -- 23 from Europe, 14 from the Americas and four from Asian countries. Twenty-one were detected during the infection screening process for international arrivals. The number of imported cases stands at 412, accounting for 4.3 percent of the total. 
  
Of the total imported cases, around 10 percent are foreigners, with the vast majority being Korean nationals. On whether Korea would impose a total entry ban on foreigners entering, officials said they are “discussing the matter.”
 
The continued rise in the number of imported cases is placing a strain on Seoul’s containment efforts, with calls for more draconian measures. Some point to China, which has announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors, as an example.
 
Korea hasn’t entirely closed its borders, opting instead for testing and quarantine procedures for passengers arriving from overseas.
 
Since last week, all arrivals from Europe have been tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport, and they are required to self-quarantine for two weeks even if they test negative.
 
US arrivals are required to self-quarantine for two weeks at home, but only those showing symptoms such as fever are being tested. But with the US’ dire coronavirus outbreak -- the country had reported about 125,000 as of Sunday, overtaking Italy and China as the country with the highest reported number globally -- more Koreans are set to return from the US in the coming weeks, suggesting a need for stricter quarantine procedures.
 
Meanwhile, the daily tally in Korea’s capital area amounted to 42 cases, or 40 percent of the total, putting authorities on edge. Breaking the numbers down, Seoul reported 20 new cases, Incheon seven and Gyeonggi Province 15, with many of them having been traced overseas.
 
Six new cases from Seoul were linked to a new cluster at Manmin Central Church in Guro-gu, whose founder is viewed as a cult leader, putting the total there at 18.
 
Meanwhile, 222 more patients were discharged from the hospital after making full recoveries, leaving 5,033 former patients virus-free, outnumbering the 4,398 in isolation for treatment and quarantine. The KCDC said Korea’s recovery rate stands at 52.5 percent.
 
By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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