SEOUL, March 30 (Yonhap) -- People ignoring self-quarantine rules after arriving here from abroad are hampering South Korea's drive to contain imported infections of the new coronavirus.
Those flying in from Europe and the United States are now required to self-isolate for 14 days, with the Seoul government planning to make the two-week quarantine mandatory for all entrants from overseas starting April 1.
But many of the new entrants put under mandatory or recommended self-isolation have been caught going outside in violation of the rules, raising fears of community transmission of COVID-19. They have gone out to meet people, shop, eat, visit entertainment venues and even travel to other cities.
The nation's total coronavirus infections rose by 78 to 9,661 on Monday, with imported cases accounting for 29. On Sunday, imported infections made up 41 of the 146 daily new cases. The cumulative total of imported cases has risen to 441.
A British man in his 30s in Suwon, south of Seoul, drew flak after it was disclosed that he had visited three other cities without wearing masks for five days and come into contact with 23 people before testing positive for the coronavirus last Tuesday.
The man was reportedly asked to self-isolate for two weeks after having a cough on arriving at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, from Thailand on March 20.
He had samples taken for coronavirus testing at a health center in Suwon last Monday. In violation of the quarantine rules, he visited an indoor sports facility after his coronavirus test, in addition to his earlier visits to public places in Seoul and nearby cities, Suwon officials said.
As details on the British man's movement were made public, many citizens wrote angry comments on the website of the Suwon City Hall, calling for strong punishment.
"The British man moved around in his neighborhood without wearing a mask, despite symptoms, a coronavirus test and self-isolation recommendations. Such an act should not be forgiven," a citizen wrote.
Suwon Mayor Yeom Tae-young has vowed to hold the British man responsible, while the Ministry of Justice has launched an investigation into the case to examine if he violated the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act. Depending on the outcome of the probe, the British national may face deportation or a claim for damages, government officials said.
South Korean students have been returning home in large numbers from Europe and the U.S. to avoid the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the regions, and some of them have posed a challenge to the nation's social distancing campaign.
In one of the most controversial cases, a South Korean student who recently returned from the U.S. stirred up the public after it was disclosed that she had traveled to Jeju Island for five days despite respiratory symptoms and in disregard of the government's self-quarantine recommendation before testing positive for the coronavirus in Seoul.
The student, a 19-year-old attending a university in Boston and living in Gangnam Ward, southern Seoul, returned to Korea on March 15. Instead of remaining at home in isolation as recommended by the authorities, she traveled to Jeju with her mother from March 20-24. Both of them were confirmed to have the coronavirus in Seoul on March 25.
The student allegedly had chills, muscular pain and a sore throat on the first day of her trip to Jeju. She visited a hospital due to such symptoms on March 23 but went ahead with her travel plans as scheduled.
Subsequently, 28 businesses visited by the duo, including a hotel, a supermarket, a rental-car agent and restaurants, were temporarily shut down, and 70 people believed to have come into contact with them were ordered to self-isolate.
Angered by the incident, Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong said his government will seek to file a criminal complaint against the two and a civil lawsuit to demand more than 100 million won (US$81,500) in damage incurred by the private businesses and residents.
Won said Monday at least six businesses have expressed their intention to take part in the suit, and the number of plaintiffs is expected to grow.
According to the authorities, there have been many other cases of students deviating from the self-quarantine rules.
A Korean student, who returned home on March 19 from Britain, was found to have visited two restaurants in Pyeongchang, east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, before testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. The student reportedly visited Pyeongchang to isolate himself at a condo there.
A 19-year-old student, who returned to her home in Seoul's Gangnam Ward on March 17 after her university in New York state was closed, had visited many public places in her neighborhood, including a cafe, convenience store, park, comic book store, pharmacy and restaurant, before her infection was confirmed on Wednesday.
"Students studying abroad seem to have a strong individualistic tendency. The entire nation is now practicing social distancing to curb the coronavirus outbreak, but the students returning from abroad appear to take the situation too lightly. We're angered by their individualism," a Gangnam resident said.
The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said last week that any foreigner leaving his or her self-isolation venue without permission will be expelled from the country. Violators of the quarantine rules could be fined up to 10 million won or imprisoned for up to a year under the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, in addition to forfeiting a leave subsidy totaling 1.23 million won in the case of a four-member household.
The Seoul metropolitan government and other local governments have threatened to take strong legal action against self-quarantine violators.
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