|Incheon International Airport looks empty as the new coronavirus epidemic discourages overseas travels./ Yonhap|
By Kim Se-jeong
All arrivals from Europe will have to undergo a COVID-19 infection test at the country's airports and ports, starting Sunday, in enhanced screening to contain the new coronavirus pandemic, the government announced Friday.
A 14-day self-quarantine period will also be mandatory for foreigners planning to stay in Korea for more than 90 days.
The enhanced virus screening is a move to detect infected patients who don't show symptoms at the airport of departure. In recent days, several cases have been reported involving patients passing initial screening but getting confirmed a few days later.
"We expanded the virus screening earlier this week, but realized that it was not enough," Yoon Tae-ho, the senior health ministry official in charge of containment measures, said during a daily press briefing Friday.
"We assume foreigners who are coming to Korea to stay for a long time have a place to stay, so self-quarantining will not be a problem. But those who do not have a place stay, the government will provide a facility," Yoon said.
Those who'd stay less than 90 days will not be obliged to have to self-isolate; instead, they will be expected to comply with government regulations and report their health condition daily via an app that must be downloaded at the port of entry, and the authorities will also call them daily.
Detecting new patients among new arrivals is a growing challenge for Korea which has potentially seen its infection peak pass. The government reported 87 new infections Thursday, putting the total number of cases at 8,652.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), the number of patients who contracted the virus outside Korea is increasing. As of Friday, among them the 8, 652, total, 86 involved people who had recently been abroad ― 50 had returned from Europe.
A local news outlet quoted a quarantine official at Incheon International Airport as saying that on one flight from Europe, 99, out of 300 passengers, declared they had symptoms. "Among all arrivals, almost 20 percent said they had symptoms."
Speaking with the Munwha Ilbo, a Korean language daily, the quarantine official said, "On average, one out of five new arrivals shows symptoms. The facility where they have to stay them until we get the test result is now full."
Yoon said Friday that the government is looking for another facility, adding he was confident that one will be found within 24 hours.
Some experts urged the government to ban the entry of people from Europe all together.
"We should ban arrivals from countries with a high coronavirus risk, and keep all other arrivals in a facility for isolation for two weeks," Chun Byung-youl, a former KCDC official, told the Munwha Ilbo. "Checking body temperatures at the airport isn't enough and a waste of resources."
Meanwhile, the government said it will evacuate 570 Koreans from Italy, the hardest European country hit by the virus. However, it did not reveal any details.