|Passengers from Germany arrive at the Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, Thursday. All passengers from the U.S. and Europe should undergo COVID-19 tests. /Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
All passengers arriving from overseas should be placed under a mandatory two-week self-quarantine regardless of their place of departure as Korea has seen the number of "imported" coronavirus infections soar over the past week, according to medical experts, Thursday.
The government has already implemented measures for the coronavirus tests on all arrivals from Europe, and those from the United States who show symptoms beginning Friday while it has kept travel restrictions at minimal levels.
The strengthened measures came as the country has been observing an increasing number of COVID-19 cases among people coming from abroad despite a gradual decline in domestic numbers.
Doctors have strongly warned that all arrivals from overseas should be under stricter monitoring and quarantine measures to contain any possibility of a further spread of the virus.
"No country in the world is safe from the coronavirus. All passengers from abroad, regardless of their departure points and their symptoms should self-quarantine for two weeks," said Eom Jung-sik, a professor at Gil Medical Center.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), 104 new infections were confirmed Wednesday, bringing the nation's total to 9,241. Among them, 39, or 37.5 percent, were considered to be imported infections.
Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the nation's two worst-affected regions, reported 26 and 12 new cases, respectively. Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital, saw their infections rise by 28 to 804, Wednesday.
The KCDC confirmed one more death from the virus Thursday, raising the toll to 132.
The authorities said foreigners who enter the country must download a self-check mobile application to regularly report on the state of their health online. If a foreigner does not download the app, they will not be allowed to enter the country, the KCDC said.
In addition, foreigners who do not follow the self-quarantine rule without giving proper cause will be immediately deported.
"The quarantine measure is a legal enforcement. Foreigners who leave their quarantine place without notification will immediately be deported," said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a press briefing at the Government Complex in Seoul.
Chung said the country is in an urgent situation and must implement stricter quarantine measures as part of a zero-tolerance policy. It will be implemented for both Koreans and foreigners who leave their home during a self-quarantine period, and police officers will be immediately dispatched to their location.
Meanwhile, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said it has canceled the permit for a foundation associated with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which has been under fire for the rapid spread of the infectious virus in the country. The religious sect, estimated to have more than 200,000 followers, is accused of hiding information that could have helped contain the pandemic. The group is linked to more than 50 percent of the country's confirmed patients.
"The religious group significantly damaged public health by prioritizing its own interest in the situation where a contagious virus put many people in the country at risk," said Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in a separate briefing.
Park also said the religious sect caused unnecessary expense and hindered government efforts to contain the virus outbreak by providing false information and ordering its followers to lie to the health authorities.