Authorities in South Korea announced the reintroduction of some social distancing measures in major metropolitan areas on Thursday, May 28, following the highest daily increase in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases since April 5. Museums, parks, and art galleries will all be closed again for two weeks from Friday, May 29, and businesses encouraged to introduce enhanced social distancing measures. The move came after 79 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Thursday, prompting concerns of a second wave of infections. The majority of the new cases have been linked to a cluster at a logistics warehouse in the southwestern Seoul suburb of Bucheon, where 82 employees and drivers have tested positive in the last week. More thorough social distancing measures, including the closure of places of worship, sports facilities and other public facilities, have since been announced in Bucheon. Although authorities have been quick to identify and isolate COVID-19 clusters, the government has warned that additional restrictions may have to be reintroduced if the cases continue to increase by more than 50 for seven consecutive days.
Despite the reintroduction of some COVID-19-related restrictions, plans for the phased reopening of schools have not been delayed. South Korean authorities previously announced on May 4 that schools would start reopening in the country from May 13, after holding online classes for several weeks. High school students began returning to classes from May 13, followed by younger pupils gradually returning between May 20 and June 1. The wearing of face masks is compulsory for all returning pupils and teachers, who will also be required to implement social distancing measures and wipe their desks regularly. Guidelines and mock drills will be conducted in order to plan for a potential upsurge of COVID-19 infections.
The temporary suspension of visa-free entry and visa-waiver programs for countries with entry bans on South Koreans remains in effect until further notice. All inbound passengers to South Korea continue to be required to undertake a 14-day mandatory quarantine period. Short-term travelers are required to remain in quarantine at their own expense at a government-mandated facility. Long-term travelers and residents are required to self-quarantine at their own residences. All those arriving from Europe and the US are 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 preapproved waiver from a Korean embassy or consulate. The quarantine measures do not apply to passengers transiting through Incheon International Airport (ICN), but such travelers are subject to a temperature screening and health questionnaire.
As of May 28, authorities have confirmed 11,344 cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 269 associated deaths. Further international spread of the virus is to be expected over the near term.
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.
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