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COVID-19 testing order on foreigners creates 'chaos' at testing centers

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A makeshift COVID-19 testing site in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, is crowded with people waiting to receive a test, Sunday. Yonhap
A makeshift COVID-19 testing site in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, is crowded with people waiting to receive a test, Sunday. Yonhap

By Lee Hyo-jin

Gyeonggi Province's mandatory COVID-19 testing order for foreign workers in the region created "chaos" at overcrowded and understaffed testing centers over the weekend, with the number of visitors exceeding testing capacity.

Amid sporadic infection clusters at companies employing foreign workers in the area, the local government issued an administrative order, March 8, enforcing all foreign workers in the region to get tested for the coronavirus by March 22.

Those who fail to undergo a test during the period could be fined up to 3 million won ($2,600), according to the order, and if an infection occurs among those who have not been tested, the authorities will demand indemnity (payment) for the cost of their treatment and quarantine.

But criticism has mounted among the foreign community on the local government's imposition of a "bureaucratic" measure without considering its lack of testing capacity, as around 85,000 foreign workers are expected to get tested during the two-week period.

Foreign nationals who received a test over the weekend shared their experiences with The Korea Times, on condition of anonymity, on how makeshift testing sites across the province were poorly organized and packed with practically no space for social distancing, putting visitors at risk of potential infection.

A U.S. citizen living in Bucheon said, "I arrived at the testing site at 9 a.m., Saturday, half an hour before it opened, but the area was already packed. I waited in the line for over two hours, during which it seemed that nobody was following social distancing measures."

Another foreign resident pointed out that the center was understaffed. "Only two officials were registering the visitors, causing a big hold-up in the line. I expected that the government would have been aware of the large increase in the number of people going to the testing centers with the mandatory order in place, but apparently there was no preparation for it."

Some said they were unable to have the test despite standing in line for several hours.

Another U.S. citizen who visited a testing site in Siheung, Saturday, said, "I arrived early before the 9 a.m. opening time and waited in line for three hours. But the health officials told me to go home saying that there were too many people."

He expressed concerns that he would have to try again this Saturday, the only day his work schedule allows, but with no guarantee of getting tested. "Now I have to hope that this weekend I can get a test, or else I may be subject to punishment although I've tried my best and followed the rules."

A foreign resident in Ansan said he was unable to get a test even after the weekend, saying, "My colleagues and I visited a testing center Monday morning, but we were turned away. The officials told us that the site can accept only 1,000 visitors per day."

Regarding the issue, the authorities said they acknowledged such problems and were currently working on follow-up measures.

"We have noticed that testing sites have become overly crowded following the testing order, so we are discussing with the health authorities ways to increase testing accessibility for foreign workers," an official at the Foreigner Policy Division at the Gyeonggi provincial government told The Korea Times.

In the case of Hwaseong, the city government decided to add another testing site to the current four, and extend the operating hours from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. to 9 a.m.-9 p.m. It will also increase the number of staff from the previous four to five to 24 to 26.

Lee Hyo-jin

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