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South Korea faces onslaught of travel restrictions

Israel, Bahrain, Jordan among countries imposing entry bans
Feb 25,2020
South Korea is facing a string of travel restrictions including an entry ban by at least six countries and territories as of Monday amid global concern over the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.

Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Kiribati, Samoa and American Samoa thus far have banned the entry of Koreans and foreigners who have visited Korea in the past 14 days into their countries, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Macau and Qatar on Sunday also raised travel restrictions on Korea. They joined countries like Brunei, Britain, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Ethiopia and Uganda who earlier revealed bolstered travel measures such as self-quarantines or more stringent health checks of Korean travelers and those who have visited South Korea recently.

Korea has seen the number of confirmed coronavirus cases spike exponentially over the past week to over 830 as of Monday, with more than half of the patients in the city Daegu, mostly linked with a minor Christian sect, the Shincheonji church.

With global fears of the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in December, there is also concern over possible discrimination against Korean travelers and the impact it could have on those who have business in countries imposing bans and restrictions.

Jordan was the latest country to announce Sunday it will temporarily bar entry to citizens of South Korea, China and Iran, as well as foreigners who visited those countries in the past 14 days, in response to the rise in coronavirus cases. Jordanians who visited these countries will also undergo a two-week quarantine.

Israel on Sunday announced a travel ban starting Monday on all foreign nationals who have been in Korea in the past two weeks. Israel earlier imposed similar entry bans on Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and Singapore.

Bahrain announced similar travel bans on Korea Friday, though South Korean nationals with permanent residency are allowed to enter the country but will need to undergo a medical examination and tougher quarantine checks. Kiribati requires travelers from Korea to spend 14 days in a safe country and provide medical documents proving they are not infected with the virus, while Samoa requires medical documents and a self-quarantine.

Amid concerns over the sustained community spread of the virus in Korea, the United States on Saturday raised its travel advisory a notch to Level 2 out of a four-tier system, calling to “exercise increased caution” when traveling to South Korea from “normal precautions.”

There aren’t any restrictions on Koreans and visitors of Korea to the United States. However, those traveling to American Samoa will be required to undergo two weeks of self-quarantine in Hawaii if they visited Korea in the past 14 days and submit medical documents.

Taiwan on Saturday also raised its travel advisories for Korea and Japan to Level 2, calling to be on alert, in a three-tier system.

Macau on Sunday designated South Korea as a high-risk country and requires all those who visited the country in the past two weeks to undergo an extensive government-run medical examination.

Travelers entering Oman from South Korea, China, Iran and Singapore must undergo a 14-day quarantine period. African countries like Ethiopia and Qatar likewise require a two-week self-isolation period after entry, while Uganda requires quarantine if a visitor shows symptoms.

Britain also requires travelers who visited Korea to self-quarantine for 14 days if they show symptoms of the virus and to report to authorities.

Israel’s travel ban has already wreaked some havoc over the weekend after some 130 Korean passengers on a Korean Air flight Saturday evening, local time, were not allowed to enter Israel after landing in Tel Aviv, without any prior notice.

Only a dozen Israelis were allowed to disembark and were quarantined, and the rest of the passengers were sent back to Korea. Israeli airport authorities also made travel arrangements through other foreign carriers for Korean passengers supposed to depart on that flight.

The Korean Foreign Ministry in turn summoned the charge d’affaires of the Israeli Embassy in Seoul Sunday to lodge a protest against the treatment of the Korean Air passengers, requesting that such an incident should not be repeated.

Earlier this month, a group of 39 Korean Catholics from North Gyeongsang made a pilgrimage to Israel, from Feb. 8 to 16, and so far 30 Koreans on that trip have tested positive for the new coronavirus, health authorities confirmed as of Monday.

The diagnosis of several new patients who visited Israel, a popular pilgrimage destination for Korean Christians, came after their return home. A separate group of pilgrims from North Gyeongsang who departed for Israel on Feb. 13 were set to return to Korea on Monday and will be quarantined for 14 days.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday urged Israelis against nonessential visits to Korea and Japan, and in a statement advised to “completely avoid the areas” of Daegu and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang, where a surge of the virus outbreak in Korea has been concentrated. Israeli health authorities have also instructed some 200 Israelis suspected to have had contact with the group to enter isolation.

Israeli authorities urged people who had been in close contact with the group of South Korean pilgrims recently to quarantine themselves and are also requesting Korean tourists in the country to avoid public places and remain in isolation.

The Times of Israel reported that residents of the Har Gilo settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem held a rally Sunday where they burned tires and blocked roads following reports that health authorities planned to quarantine some 200 South Korean nationals at a military base there. Israeli media reported that other more extreme measures, such as the expulsion of all Koreans from the country, could hurt diplomatic relations.

The virus scare has even put a damper on honeymooners when 17 sets of Korean newlyweds were denied entry into Mauritius in the Indian Ocean Saturday.

The 34 Korean tourists were quarantined after some of the travelers were suspected to have symptoms of the coronavirus including a fever, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry. Two pairs, including a pregnant woman, were quarantined in the hospital while the other couples were isolated in a separate facility.

Mauritius has not officially announced a travel ban on Korea.

But a Korean Foreign Ministry official said that the government has conveyed its regret about Mauritian authorities deferring the entries of the Korean tourists and requested a speedy resolution to the situation.

Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha held talks with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Sunday in Geneva, and agreed to bolster cooperation to combat the spread of the virus.

Kang explained Seoul’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, including raising its alert to the highest level for the first time in more than a decade, according to her ministry.

Ghebreyesus recognized that Korea has a “firm and excellent response system” and also has past experience coping with the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2015.

In early February, Korea implemented its own travel restrictions on foreigners who recently visited Hubei Province in China, banning anyone who had been in the region in the 14 days prior to entering the country.

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