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Seoul gives masks free to foreigners alienated in public rationing

The Seoul city government is providing foreigners one cotton mask and five replacement filters each, at designated locations. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)
The Seoul city government is providing foreigners one cotton mask and five replacement filters each, at designated locations. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Seoul Metropolitan Government is handing out 100,000 face masks free of charge to foreigners who have been largely sidelined in the country‘s public mask rationing system, the city said Tuesday.

Each person will be given one cotton mask and five replacement filters at designated places.

“This measure is for international students and foreign workers who had difficulty buying masks and for the safety of Seoul citizens,” said Kim Hak-jin, deputy mayor for Safety Management at the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

International students and migrant laborers have faced difficulties, as the rationing system mandates foreigners show their alien registration card to check the resident number and ensure they are enrolled in the national health insurance program, alienating those who are not.

For students, mask distribution should be up and rolling at 40 universities in the city, the city official said. One should present a student ID card to pick up the mask and filters.

According to the Ministry of Education, there were 160,165 international students enrolled in higher education in South Korea, of which 41.2 percent were studying in the capital as of April 2019.

As for migrant workers, a website designed for mask distribution for foreign laborers is to be complete Monday, through which they can sign up for the gear, a city official told The Korea Herald.

Then, they can collect the masks and filters at eight centers with a passport or alien registration card. The eight are: Seoul Global Center, Southwest Seoul Global Center, Seongdong Global Migrant Center, Seongbuk Global Migrant Center, Eunpyeong Global Migrant Center, Yangcheon Global Migrant Center, Geumcheon Global Migrant Center and Gangdong Global Migrant Center.

As of November 2018, there were 374,425 non-Korean residents registered in Seoul, of which 80,567 were classified as migrant workers, according to data from the Ministry of Interior and Safety.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, foreigners here have encountered hurdles in purchasing masks as the mandatory national health insurance for non-Korean nationals introduced last year is open for those who have lived here for more than six months, while the service is not prevalent among international students who are not required to join it until next year.

As of Tuesday morning, Seoul had reported 28 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total for the city to 454 patients and no deaths, Seoul city said.

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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