Airport looms as new hotbed of virus infections

Lim Chang-won Reporter() | Posted : March 27, 2020, 11:12 | Updated : March 27, 2020, 12:42

[Courtesy of Incheon International Airport]

SEOUL -- South Korea's anti-epidemic campaign has been lauded abroad. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised South Korean health authorities for conducting the extensive and speedy screening of patients infected with a novel coronavirus, describing a limited entry ban as the right decision.

As the epidemic showed signs of subsiding from its peak in mid-February, South Korea is now flooded with requests for help from other countries. Health authorities took their time back to focus on the development of effective vaccines and medicine for the treatment of COVID-19.

During a G-20 video summit on Thursday, President Moon Jae-in proposed that the major industrialized economies should maintain the flow of essential economic exchanges. "I propose that we seek ways to allow for the travel of essential persons, such as scientists, medical professionals and business leaders."

Moon deserves positive remarks from the leaders of other countries struggling with an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19, but critics say South Korea's anti-epidemic campaign has a long way to go. The ambush is lurking at Incheon International Airport, South Korea's gateway west of Seoul, which has become a new hotbed of infections.

Air traffic has been visibly shrunk due to a global pandemic, but up to 10,000 passengers come in per day. Moreover, tens of thousands of Korean students, businessmen and others staying abroad are ready to flow back into their homeland.

As of March 26, 4,665 patients remain hospitalized while 4,582 others have been cured and discharged from isolation wards. The number of daily new infections has fluctuated at around 100 since March 12. On Thursday, 91 new cases were reported. Since the first case was reported on January 20, 309 people coming in from other countries, including 31 foreigners, have been infected with COVID-19.

Airport quarantine officials detect dozens of people infected with COVID-19 every day. However, they cannot plug up a loophole because of those who show no symptoms at checkpoints but test positive later at their dwelling, leading to the infection of relatives and friends.

South Korea has enforced an obligatory two-week quarantine period and virus tests for all long-term arrivals from Europe and the United States. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has warned of "no-tolerance" for those who violate self-isolation rules.

Official data showed that about 40 people have been accused of violating self-quarantine rules as of March 26. Health officials said that all foreign and domestic airlines should conduct fever checks for Incheon-bound passengers before boarding at departure points from March 30. 

Chung stressed that South Korea should maintain flexible anti-epidemic measures without complete entry bans or lockdown. "Considering that 90 percent of all overseas patients are Korean nationals, there are limitations in adopting extreme measures such as an immediate entry ban."

"We need flexible and sustainable guidelines for a new lifestyle that can reduce the risk of spreading CVOID-19 while still leading economic activities and daily life," the prime minister said on Friday.

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