On Wednesday, April 8, the South Korean government announced a temporary suspension on visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for countries with entry bans on South Koreans to prevent imported cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Authorities will also expand the entry restrictions to prohibit foreigners traveling for non-essential reasons. South Korea currently has visa-free entry programs with 34 countries including Australia and Canada, and has visa waiver treaties with 54 nations such as France, Russia, and Thailand. Separately, local authorities in Seoul also ordered all clubs and bars across the city to close on Wednesday, April 8, following a cluster of COVID-19 infections linked to a bar in the Gangnam district.
As a precautionary measure, all inbound passengers are required to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine as of Wednesday, April 1. Most short-term travelers, including US citizens on 90-day visa free travel and short term visa holders, will be required to quarantine at their own expense for 14 days at a government-mandated facility. Long term travelers and residents will be required to self-quarantine at their residences. Any passengers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to undergo testing for the disease upon their arrival at the airport. Individuals traveling for diplomatic, business, humanitarian, or academic reasons may be exempt from the quarantine requirements but must obtain a pre-approved waiver from a Korean Embassy or Consulate. The quarantine measures will not apply to passengers transiting through Incheon International Airport (IIA), but such travelers will be subject to a temperature screening and health questionnaire.
To date, there have been 10384 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Korea, including 200 associated fatalities. Further international spread of the virus is expected over the coming days and weeks.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly, and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone non-essential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care urgently and share your previous travel history with your health care provider.