(5th LD) Foreign countries tighten travel restrictions on S. Korea as new coronavirus cases spike
(ATTN: UPDATES with more details on chartered flight from Israel in paras 7-8)
By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- An increasing number of foreign countries enacting bans on the entry of visitors travelling from South Korea or tightening travel restrictions for the Asian nation as Seoul has reported a drastic increase in new coronavirus infections in recent days.
South Korea has seen the number of confirmed coronavirus cases spike from 30 on Feb. 17 to 833, along with eight deaths, as of Monday. Of the total, more than 60 percent of the patients were found to be members of a church in the southeastern city of Daegu.
Some half a dozen countries have officially barred passengers from South Korea from entering their territory amid growing fears that Koreans may spread the deadly respiratory illness named COVID-19.
Israel was one of the first to have formally imposed the ban. Five others are Bahrain, Jordan, Kiribati, Samoa and American Samoa.
Israel said it will bar South Koreans and travelers who have been in the country in the past two weeks from entering its territory starting Monday. But even before the announcement, Israel forced back a Korean Air flight carrying some 180 passengers, including 130 Koreans, when it landed in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Israel cited increased concern following reports that some South Koreans who made a group pilgrimage to Israel were later confirmed to have contracted the virus.
South Korea has voiced regret over the decision, but has worked with Israel to arrange chartered flights that will bring back some of its citizens from the country.
Seoul's embassy in Israel said the first of these flights left Tel Aviv with 220 passengers, with a second plane set to depart with 200 people. Israel has said it will pay for the chartered flights.
Israel has also imposed entry bans on people with a record of visits to Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand and Singapore.
Bahrain has also barred South Koreans and those who have been in countries exposed to the virus in the past 14 days from entering the country. South Korean nationals with residential permits are still allowed entry, but they need to undergo tougher quarantine checks.
Samoa requires entrants from South Korea, China, Japan and Singapore to submit documentation showing they went through a self-quarantine for at least two weeks. American Samoa has taken a similar measure, requiring visitors from those countries to be quarantined in Hawaii for 14 days.
Thirteen countries have taken measures to put passengers from South Korea into temporary quarantine or to closely monitor their health condition.
Brunei, Britain, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Uganda have tightened monitoring of travelers from Korea and other virus-hit countries, and they require entrants to voluntarily notify health authorities if they show any symptoms. Travelers entering Oman from South Korea, China, Iran and Singapore must be put under isolation for 14 days.
Macao has classified Korea as a high-risk country for the virus and been conducting separate quarantine checks on visitors from South Korea at a designated facility. Qatar also requires visitors from South Korea to be placed under self-quarantine or isolation at a facility for 14 days.
Mauritius, an island nation off Africa's east coast, has yet to officially announce an entry ban on South Koreans. But on Sunday it suspended the entry of 34 Korean tourists -- some with signs of cold -- and transported them to a hospital for diagnosis, a foreign ministry official said.
The country has yet to make a final decision over entry restrictions after a Cabinet meeting, the official said.
"Our government lodged a protest over Mauritius's move to suspend the entry of Koreans without prior consultations, expressed regrets and urged a prompt resolution of the issue," the official said.
On Monday, the government of the Vietnamese province of Da Nang put all passengers, including 20 South Koreans, who arrived from Daegu on a flight operated by a Vietnamese low-cost carrier, into temporary quarantine at a local hospital, the foreign ministry said in a statement. Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, is a city of some 2.5 million people and has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent days.
The ministry strongly protested the move as it was made without any prior consultations with the Seoul government, while asking for cooperation to avoid any excessive or unreasonable measures against its citizens.
The Vietnamese government sought understanding from the Korean government, saying such a step was inevitable as part of an ongoing effort to cope with the fast-spreading coronavirus, the statement said.
Taiwan's health authorities will place all non-Taiwanese passengers from South Korea on a two-week quarantine starting Tuesday, according to the government-backed Central News Agency in Taipei. Taiwan has also raised its alert on travel to South Korea to the third-highest "warning" level.
Mongolia's National Emergency Commission reportedly halted all flights from South Korea from Monday and will block all flights from Korea until March 2 as part of its efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Hong Kong also issued a ban on non-Hong Kong passengers who have traveled to South Korea in the past two weeks, starting Tuesday, according to South China Morning Post.
The tightened measures come after the United States on Saturday raised its travel advisory for South Korea by one notch to Level 2, which calls for exercising "increased caution" from "normal precautions."
Britain and Singapore have advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to South Korea's Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the regions responsible for the latest surge in virus infections.
Besides these countries, local authorities in China have taken steps to restrict and even quarantine people arriving from South Korea as a precautionary measure.
The Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeast China, Weihai in Shangdong and Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, have imposed tighter rules on travelers, with those with symptoms being placed in isolation.
Yanbian has started to inform travelers from South Korea that they can be subject to quarantine, and has set up special entry check-in desks at its airport to screen passengers. It said those that do not have a confirmed place to stay can be denied entry.
Weihai reported that people could be detained for several days to check for signs of illness, with Shenzhen holding around 30 South Korean passengers after one person on a flight that arrived in the city had fever.
The South Korean consulate in nearby Guangzhou is in the process of trying to determine the actions being taken by Chinese authorities.
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