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Foreigners who visited Hubei are banned: Gov’t

Feb 03,2020
The Korean government announced Sunday it will bar entry to any foreigners who visited China’s Hubei Province in the past two weeks effective Tuesday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Visa-free entries to Jeju Island will also be temporarily suspended, announced Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun after a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters at the government complex in Seoul. The visa waiver system allows foreign visitors to enter Jeju Island and stay on the southern island for up to 30 days and has been most frequently used by Chinese visitors.

Chung said, “We will be restricting entry from areas of risk in China where the novel coronavirus is spreading,” adding that all foreign nationals who visited Hubei over the past 14 days will be banned from entry into Korea starting from Tuesday “for the time being.”

Koreans who visited the region recently will undergo 14 days of self-quarantine after entry into the country, he added.

More than 14,500 people have been infected by the virus which has spread since December from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, according to Chinese health authorities, and there are at least 304 deaths in China.

Korea as of Sunday confirmed 15 cases. Some 700 overseas Koreans from the Wuhan region were evacuated on two chartered flights arriving in Korea on Friday and Saturday and are undergoing a two-week isolation period in public facilities in Jincheon County and Asan in the Chungcheong region.

The Philippines on Sunday announced the first death from the coronavirus outside of China, a man who was a resident of Wuhan.

Other countries including the United States, Australia, Japan and Singapore have previously announced similar restrictions of foreign visitors coming in from China.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a global health emergency on Thursday following an emergency meeting. It said the declaration was made to protect countries with weaker public health systems. However, the WHO did not for the time being recommend travel restrictions, saying they can hinder information sharing, medical supply chains and harm economies. Beijing criticized the U.S. decision on Friday to ban visitors from China, which came into implementation Sunday afternoon.

“While the WHO has only just specifically advised against any travel restrictions, the U.S. has decided to act in the opposite way,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying in a briefing Saturday. “This has set a bad example. It is certainly not a gesture of goodwill.”

After the meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Chung said that measures will be taken to block all routes for the virus to be transmitted to provincial areas.

He said that the measure to temporarily suspend visa-free entries to Jeju Island came upon consultation with the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province.

Around 797,300 Chinese people accounted for 98 percent of all foreign visitors making visa-free visits to Jeju last year. Some 8,900 Chinese tourists visited the island over the Lunar New Year holiday period from Jan. 24 to 27, prompting local alarm.

Chung called on anyone working in institutional care such as day care centers and postnatal care facilities who have visited China within the past 14 days to be excluded from activities for two weeks.

President Moon Jae-in on the same day met with a group of six infectious disease experts Sunday to discuss measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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