South Korea will temporarily stop visa waiver programs for countries that bar entry to Koreans, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced Wednesday, amid concerns over a growing number of coronavirus infections coming from overseas.
The government will also step up entry restrictions on foreigners traveling for reasons that are not essential or urgent, the prime minister said.
“While we maintain the principle of openness, the government will strengthen (entry) restrictions in accordance with the principle of reciprocity,” said Chung during a pan-government meeting on COVID-19, calling for related ministries to come up with follow-up measures for implementation.
A total of 148 countries have imposed entry ban on Koreans over the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government’s new measures will apply to 88 countries, including 34 countries with visa-free entry programs such as Australia and Canada, and 54 countries with visa waiver programs, like France, Russia and Thailand.
This leaves only a few countries, such as the US, the UK, Mexico, Ireland and Slovenia, with valid visa waiver programs.
The new policy will be implemented as soon as possible, according to a Foreign Ministry official, but the exact date is not yet known.
Imported cases have become Korea’s chief concern for containing the epidemic, despite the overall downward trend in new infections here.
Korea on Wednesday reported 53 new cases of COVID-19, putting the total at 10,384. Of the new cases about half, or 24, came from overseas, bringing the total number of imported cases to 832. Most recent imported cases have involved Korean nationals returning from overseas.
Seoul hasn’t entirely closed its borders, opting instead for testing and quarantine procedures for passengers arriving from overseas. But the public continues to call for tougher border control to stop the virus’s reintroduction to the country.
Since April 1, Korea imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine on all international arrivals.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com)