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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 11)

All News 07:04 June 11, 2021

Allowing overseas tours
More efforts needed to ensure public health

Fully vaccinated people will be able to embark on overseas group tours as early as next month. To that end, the government is seeking to sign "travel bubble" agreements with several countries, including Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as Guam and Saipan.

A travel bubble is an agreement between countries, especially with low COVID-19 cases, to open their borders to each other. If South Korea strikes such a deal with other countries, its people ― who have received their vaccinations ― will be allowed to go on group tours to those countries without undergoing the two-week quarantine measures.

This agreement is designed to meet growing demand for overseas travel among Koreans who have endured COVID-19 restrictions since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year. It is also aimed at revitalizing the country's airline and tourism industries which have borne the brunt of the virus. Besides, it will help speed up the vaccination process to reach herd immunity by November as the government has promised.

Allowing overseas travel, though limited to group tours, will mark a step toward returning to normalcy. It is welcome news. Koreans, just like most people around the world, are craving to get back to pre-pandemic life. They are already sick of various quarantine measures and social distancing rules, gripped by fears of COVID-19 infections.

In this situation, the government's push for a travel bubble accord appears to be a step in the right direction. The nation's vaccination campaign is gaining speed. The authorities also plan to gradually ease social distancing guidelines for vaccinated people. A ban on the gathering of five or more people will be lifted for fully vaccinated people starting in July. And those getting at least one dose of the vaccine will be allowed to go out without wearing a mask.

Yet, we should not lower our guard until the country defeats the pandemic completely. That is why the Moon Jae-in administration must make through preparations before easing or lifting restrictions. We should not become complacent until more than 70 percent of the country's population is fully vaccinated to form herd immunity. So we have to keep in mind that haste makes waste. The inoculation rate is still low. Around 20 percent of the population have so far been given the first of two required shots.

Some skeptics argue that it is still too early to allow people to travel abroad, even on a limited basis, because such a measure could trigger a new wave of COVID-19 infections. Overseas travelers could bring variants of the virus to the country, making matters even worse.

No one can overemphasize the importance of making through preparations to cope with any unpredictable consequences. It is necessary to set up an efficient system to manage overseas travelers and sort out those with false vaccination certificates. The government must work with travel agencies to double-check the records of travelers' vaccination and coronavirus test results. Most of all, it should not compromise the health of the public under any circumstances.

(END)

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