YEONGJONGDO, South Korea, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- With the entry ban taking effect Tuesday against non-Korean travelers coming from or through China's Hubei Province, tensions are running high at Incheon International Airport, the gateway to Seoul, where an army of hundreds of customs and health officials are mobilized at the airport's three "China-only" arrival counters to detect passengers with suspected symptoms of the new coronavirus.
The unprecedented entry ban, announced Sunday by the South Korean government, applies to all foreign travelers who over the past 14 days have stayed in or traveled to the central Chinese province, the home to Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated late last year.
Tension at the airport, located in Incheon's Yeongjongdo district, spiked at around 40 minutes past midnight Monday, when Korean Air Flight 854 landed there from Beijing and arrived at Gate 232 of Terminal 2.
It was the first plane arriving from China after the entry ban for non-Korean visitors to Hubei province went into effect.
All the passengers from Beijing were herded to one of the airport's three China-only quarantine inspection areas that opened the previous day to separate passengers flying in from China from arrivals from non-Chinese airports.
Terminal 2's China-only quarantine desk was manned by a large number of officers from the Incheon Airport National Quarantine Station and about 50 officials dispatched by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
All the quarantine officers and health ministry officials, who were wearing face masks and gloves, moved in unison as Korean Air 854 passengers approached Terminal 2's China-only quarantine desk.
The passengers were first asked to fill out health questionnaires to check whether they had fever or respiratory symptoms. Foreigners, in particular, were required to write a special quarantine report, providing their mobile numbers and domestic stay addresses and disclosing any visit to Hubei province in the past two weeks.
Passengers then moved in front of the quarantine officers, who used thermometers to examine them for fever and respiratory symptoms. Anybody found with symptoms was immediately isolated for treatment.
Passengers who passed through the quarantine check without any symptoms were asked to confirm their domestic contact details.
A group of 24 officials actually called the mobile numbers submitted by passengers.
Passengers whose phone numbers were verified were issued a quarantine certificate. The certificate had to be submitted during the next stage of immigration. Without a certificate, immigration was to be denied.
Immigration officials also checked whether foreign passengers' passports were issued in Hubei province.
If a stay in or visit to Hubei was confirmed, entry was to be banned for the concerned passenger.
A foreign passenger who successfully went through all the quarantine and immigration screening with her daughter said that she didn't feel much inconvenience despite being forced to undergo multiple stages of quarantine and immigration.
She said such procedures are necessary to help stop the spread of the viral disease.
Airport officials said all 100-odd passengers arriving from Beijing aboard Korean Air Flight 854 passed through the lengthy quarantine and immigration procedures without reporting any trouble.
Despite the enforcement of such meticulous quarantine procedures, however, some critics and officials say there could be some loopholes in detecting everyone infected with the coronavirus.
"It is not easy to detect infection during its latent period with the current medical technology. Thus we're securing contact numbers of all passengers to respond effectively if asymptomatic carriers pass through airport quarantine screening and spread the disease in society," said an official.
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