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US State Department urges Americans to reconsider travel to S. Korea


WASHINGTON/SEOUL -- The US State Department raised its travel advisory for South Korea to the second-highest level Wednesday, urging Americans to reconsider travel over concerns about the coronavirus.

The travel advisory was raised by one notch to Level 3 on a four-tier scale, according to its website. Level 4 advises Americans not to travel to the designated country.

The measure came shortly after US President Donald Trump said earlier Wednesday that it is not the right time to restrict travel to and from South Korea.

"At a right time we may do it," he said at a White House press briefing when asked if he is considering restricting travel to and from South Korea, Italy and other countries hit by the virus.

"Right now it's not the right time."

An official at Seoul's foreign ministry said that the US.

explained the decision to raise the travel advisory in advance, and that it does not affect the entry of South Korean nationals into the U.S.

On Thursday, Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young held phone talks with US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and called for the US to refrain from taking "excessive measures that could unnecessarily shrink exchanges between the two countries."

Pointing to the new travel advisory level, US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris tweeted that he is "working closely with ROK in everything COVID-19." ROK stands for South Korea's official name, Republic of Korea.

"(I) am in DC for annual global ambassadors' meeting. Closely monitoring COVID-19 situation in ROK & thinking of everyone back home," he wrote on Twitter.

The new action comes two days after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its highest travel health notice for South Korea, recommending that Americans avoid all nonessential travel there.

Also Wednesday, the US Indo-Pacific Command announced it is restricting all nonessential travel to South Korea by all military, civilians and contractors under its authority.

One American soldier in South Korea tested positive for the COVID-19 virus this week.

South Korea has reported 1,595 infections, with 12 deaths, and is expected to see continued increases in the number of cases as authorities test more than 210,000 members of a religious sect at the center of the rapid spread.

The State Department lists 13 other countries in the Level 3 category, including Mongolia, Pakistan and Burundi.

China, which reported the first case of the coronavirus in December, is classified as Level 4, along with North Korea, Iran and Iraq. (Yonhap)