|Passengers arrive at Incheon International Airport, Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Lee Hyo-jin
Starting Thursday, people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus abroad will be eligible for incentives offered to vaccinated people in Korea, following the government's announcement that it will recognize inoculation records from overseas.
Previously, vaccine incentives, such as being exempt from the limit on the number of people allowed at private gatherings, had only applied to those who had been vaccinated and received certification for it in the country.
People who were vaccinated abroad were not eligible for these incentives due to the absence of a system to verify the validity of certificates issued overseas.
As this situation has led to inconveniences for those vaccinated in other countries, the health authorities have decided to gradually recognize vaccination records from overseas, beginning with individuals who are eligible to skip the mandatory self-quarantine upon arrival, the United States Force Korea (USFK) service members, diplomats and their families.
Currently, people visiting Korea for business or academic purposes, or to meet immediate family members, can be exempted from the mandatory two-week self-quarantine.
"People who were vaccinated abroad have been experiencing inconveniences here, as it has been impossible for them to prove that their inoculation records are valid. The government is reviewing ways to recognize their vaccination records," Sohn Young-rae, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said during a briefing on Tuesday.
In order to register one's record of vaccination, one should visit a public health center and submit the record along with one's self-quarantine exemption waiver. He or she will then be given a paper vaccination certificate and can also download a mobile version on the COVID-19 vaccine app (COOV).
The health ministry said that the new rule applies only to those who have been administered with a vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO): Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca (including Covishield), Sinopharm and Sinovac.
|A man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Mapo District, Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap|
But controversy arose over the inclusion of two Chinese-made vaccines ― Sinopharm and Sinovac ― on the list, as these products haven't been approved by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety here.
Regarding this issue, Sohn said, "The exemption of the self-quarantine rule applies to those who have been inoculated with WHO-recognized vaccines. We have decided to apply the same rule in the case of recognizing vaccination records."
The health ministry also said that it is actively reviewing the implementation of a "vaccine pass," which would allow only fully vaccinated individuals access to multiuse facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, entertainment facilities and theaters.
Unvaccinated people will have to show a negative PCR test results to enter these facilities.
Regarding concerns that the vaccine pass may lead to discrimination against unvaccinated individuals, Sohn said, "The measure aims to control the spread of the virus in the unvaccinated group, as the unvaccinated have a higher risk of falling into a critical condition once infected. Also, it's not a permanent system, and will be used during the transition period to the 'live with COVID-19' policy."