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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 1)

All News 07:00 April 01, 2020

Zero tolerance
Violators of quarantine rules threaten public health

South Korea will enforce a two-week mandatory quarantine for all people entering the country from Wednesday, except for those visiting for diplomatic and government affairs.

This will serve as a de facto entry ban for foreigners. It cannot come at a worse time for the country's struggling tourism, hotel and other businesses, but the measure is surely necessary considering a steady inflow of COVID-19 cases from abroad.

The government has already implemented mandatory virus tests and two-week quarantine for all entrants from Europe and the United States. But from Wednesday, the measures will be expanded to all visitors from overseas, regardless of their nationality or departure place. Visitors without local addresses here will be required to stay in government-designated facilities for two weeks at their own expense.

The compulsory quarantine measure, if carried out as planned, will help the country contain the spread of the coronavirus. To have the desired effect, however, it is important to deal sternly with violators of the quarantine rules. Under the current law, those violating quarantine rules or obstructing quarantine efforts may face up to 1 year in prison and fines of up to 10 million won (US$8,200). Additionally, foreign violators could face deportation.

The reason the government should implement a "zero-tolerance" policy for any violators is quite clear. As President Moon Jae-in stated at a weekly Cabinet meeting, Tuesday, "a small hole can break a dam." Any violator can be a potential risk to the safety of our community, so there should be resolute and strong legal measures against them, regardless of their nationality.

In fact, there have been reports about some worrisome cases of quarantine rule violation. A British national resident, after returning from a trip to Thailand, may face deportation for traveling by bike and visiting an indoor golf range although he was required to isolate himself until the test results were determined. He eventually tested positive and was hospitalized.

There was also public uproar over a Korean woman and her mother, living in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, who tested positive after travelling to Jeju Island despite showing symptoms. The daughter recently returned home from the U.S., but travelled to Jeju, ignoring the two-week quarantine rules. In another case, a man with Polish nationality, who is living in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, is also facing punishment for visiting public places although he had been placed under a two-week quarantine after one of his friends he contacted tested positive for the virus. The Polish man also tested positive later and was hospitalized.

As of Tuesday morning, the country reported 518 imported COVID-19 cases, which account for 5.3 percent of 9,786 infections in total. The portion has increased gradually recently, posing a major threat to public health here. The mandatory quarantine measure may not be enough to prevent an inflow of infections. The government should introduce even tougher travel restrictions, if necessary.


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