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(LEAD) S. Korea expresses regret over Israel's entry ban amid virus fears

All News 14:45 February 23, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES lead paras with foreign ministry's protest; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government said Sunday it has lodged a complaint with Israel over its abrupt entry ban against South Koreans over concerns about the new coronavirus.

On Saturday, Israel refused to allow around 200 foreigners to enter the country without any prior notice after they landed in Tel Aviv on a Korean Air flight.

The measure came as South Koreans who recently made a group pilgrimage to Israel were found to have been infected with COVID-19.

Seoul's foreign ministry soon contacted the Israeli government and asked it to permit their entry.

Israel, however, rejected the request, forcing some 130 South Koreans to head back to Incheon International Airport on the KE957 plane.

The ministry voiced regret over Israel's measure and demanded that such an incident not occur again, according an official.

Israel explained that its move was unavoidable amid the fast spread of COVID-19 across South Korea, but agreed to cooperate closely with Seoul on relevant steps, the official added. Israel has reported one confirmed COVID-19 case as of Saturday, according to the World Health Organization.

It has prohibited the entry of foreigners from China, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau.

A Catholic church located in Daegu, around 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, is closed on Feb. 23, 2020, due to the spread of the new coronavirus in the city. (Yonhap)

According to the health authorities here, 18 South Koreans who recently made a group pilgrimage to Israel have been confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus.

Most of the pilgrims are from North Gyeongsang Province, the southeastern region of the country that has reported the most new cases. They went to Israel on Feb. 8 and returned home on Feb. 16, while their tour guide is living in the capital city of Seoul.

The health authorities said they are closely examining the transmission route of the patients and strengthening the monitoring of all the members to prevent further infections.

Moreover, 37 people from Jeju Island made a separate pilgrimage to Israel from Feb. 11-21, according to the authorities. One of them is being checked for the virus after complaining of symptoms of the coronavirus.

Consequently, the Catholic Times, the Daegu-based religious newspaper that arranged the pilgrimage tour, said it has shut down its offices in Seoul and Daegu and put all its employees under quarantine.

Also, the Catholic diocese of Andong that covers more than half of North Gyeongsang Province has decided to shut down 40 churches under its jurisdiction and suspend all masses, meetings and events for three weeks.

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