Countries shut doors on S. Korea over coronavirus fears

By Ahn Sung-mi

Published : Feb 26, 2020 - 15:40
Updated : Feb 26, 2020 - 18:11

Koreans are separately screened by Chinese health authorities at an airport in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)



Gripped by COVID-19 fears, more than two dozen countries have barred entry to or tightened restrictions on travelers from South Korea, with neighboring Japan becoming the latest to do so. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said from Thursday it will deny entry to foreign nationals who have visited the Korean city of Daegu and the neighboring county of Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province, the areas hit hardest by the coronavirus here.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Tokyo had informed it of the planned entry ban in advance through a diplomatic channel. “We have stressed to the Japanese side that no excessive or unreasonable measures should be taken against Korean nationals and travelers, while explaining the government’s effort to contain COVID-19,” the Foreign Ministry said. “We have asked the Japanese side for a cautious response.”

After the restrictions were imposed, Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young called in Koji Tomita, Japanese ambassador to Korea, to the ministry to discuss the matter.

Korea has seen the number of COVID-19 infections increase more than twentyfold since last week. As of Wednesday afternoon, the tally stood at 1,261 cases and 12 deaths. It has the greatest number of cases outside mainland China, where the virus originated in December and which has reported over 78,000 confirmed cases. Of the Korean cases, more than 80 percent are in Daegu or North Gyeongsang Province.  

Japan’s measure follows similar steps taken earlier by Vietnam and Singapore, which have also banned visitors from the Daegu region but not from all of Korea.

As of Wednesday, 14 countries and territories had imposed an entry ban on Koreans and others who have visited the country within the last two weeks -- double the number the previous day despite Korea’s request that other countries refrain from “excessive measures.”

They are Nauru, Micronesia, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, American Samoa and Mauritius, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry. 

Other countries have stopped short of declaring outright entry bans but are imposing rigorous restrictions on anyone entering from Korea, such as mandatory medical examinations and self-quarantine orders. They are Taiwan, Macao, Thailand, the UK, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Oman, Qatar and Uganda.

Meanwhile several countries have also advised their citizens to refrain from traveling to Korea.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the highest travel warning for Korea, recommending American travelers avoid unnecessary trips to the country. France also upped its travel advisory by two levels for Korea, advising its nationals to avoid nonessential travel here.

A growing number of cities in China have enforced quarantine measures against visitors from Koreans without prior notice, fueling anger here.

On Tuesday, authorities in Weihai, Shandong province, imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine on 167 passengers arriving on a flight from Korea -- the first country-specific compulsory restriction by China, which had earlier criticized other countries for imposing travel restrictions.

Weihai is not the only Chinese city to take such precautions. Qingdao in Shandong province, Shenyang in Liaoning province and Nanjing in Jiangsu province have introduced similar restrictions on arrivals from Korea. 

Xing Haiming, Chinese ambassador to Korea, met Wednesday with Seoul’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gunn at the ministry, to discuss the latest restrictions affecting Koreans.

“Chinese government has not restricted Korean nationals,” he told reporters upon arrival at the ministry. “The measures taken by provincial Chinese officials were not intended only for South Koreans. There are many Chinese (who are quarantined).”

When asked whether the government could withdraw such measures, he said he would discuss the matter and make efforts to “properly” address the issue.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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