|Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, right, speaks during a daily meeting on COVID-19 in Sejong city, Tuesday. The government said it's considering introducing electronic tagging wristbands for people under self-quarantine. /Yonhap|
By Kim Se-jeong
The government said Tuesday it was debating whether to force those undergoing two weeks of self-quarantine to wear electronic tagging wristbands as more people have been caught defying the regulation designed to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The debate has raised some concerns over whether it would constitute an unconstitutional invasion of privacy despite its efficacy. There are also apparently some technical problems.
The issue of electronic tagging to monitor people under self-quarantine arose after some defied the government imposed restriction and left the facilities they were self-isolating in.
Police across the country have identified 75 self-quarantine regulation violators, as of Tuesday. Among them were a couple in Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province who, after intentionally leaving their phones at home, visited an art museum, shops, a gas station, a school, two Lotto outlets and restaurants over a five-day period.
Currently, 46,566 people are under self-quarantine orders.
"Self-quarantine is very important to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And for the most part, people comply well with the self-quarantine rules. But some have violated the rules and left their homes and this is forcing the government to take action," said senior health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho.
"The tagging bracelets is one of many methods which the government is seeking to introduce to keep people under self-quarantine staying where they are until the self-isolation period is over," he said.
People who violate the self-quarantine rules face a year in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won ― foreigners are subject to immediate deportation.
A government official explained Monday how the monitoring device would work on a local radio station broadcast: "Basically, the bracelets will connect to cellphones through Bluetooth and when the distance between the phone and the bracelet gets too far, it will sound an alarm."
Currently, the authorities can only track people through the GPS installed in their mobile devices. When these are switched off or left behind, tracking becomes impossible.
Electronic bracelets are already in used in Hong Kong and in the state of Kentucky in the United States. The government of Taiwan is also reportedly considering them.
The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 47 new COVID-19 infections Monday, pushing the country's total up to 10,331.
The government cautiously acknowledged that the additional cases had fallen below 50 per day attributing the drop to conscientious citizens carrying out social distancing.
"We are seeing a steady decrease in new cases, but this doesn't mean that people can lower their guard," Yoon said. "We still have patients whose infections routes remain unidentified, as well as those who recently came back to Korea from overseas. While they haven't show symptoms they are still considered potential cases. Another important fact to keep in mind is that the number of cases reported in Seoul is increasing. Additional big infection clusters can occur."
With some people showing signs of frustration with social distancing, Yoon insisted that all people should maintain the practice for effective virus containment. Last weekend, parks, malls, mountains and supermarkets across the country were packed with people ignoring the distancing campaign.