Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: Authorities allow more public facilities to reopen in Seoul, South Korea, as of July 21. Entry ban, COVID-19 quarantine orders ongoing.

  • Alert Begins: 21 Jul 2020 04:16 PM UTC
  • Alert Expires: 04 Aug 2020 11:59 PM UTC
  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel and business disruptions, immigration delays

Authorities are allowing some public facilities, including museums and libraries, to reopen in Seoul as of July 21 amid ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions across the country. Despite the measure, health officials continue to issue a red-level warning - the highest level on the four-tier National Crisis Management System - amid ongoing concerns about COVID-19. The designation allows the government to implement a variety of measures, including imposing movement restrictions, canceling schools, and altering public transport services. The government is requiring people to keep a distance of at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) from each other, stay at home at least three to four days if feeling ill, wear protective masks in public areas, maintain personal hygiene, and ventilate indoor areas regularly. Authorities are encouraging work-from-home arrangements to continue. Owners and staff at public facilities must maintain distancing measures to limit the spread of the disease.

Protective face coverings must be worn on public transport, including buses, taxis, and subway trains, as well as domestic and international airline services. Face coverings are also required in order to enter businesses that remain open; businesses must also log the contact information of customers before they enter. Moreover, the government has mandated that some businesses participate in a contact tracing system requiring personnel to scan a quick response (QR) code before allowing patrons to enter establishments. Owners can manually record contact information if necessary. Officials could suspend operations or issue fines of up to KRW 3 million (USD 2,500) for companies violating the order. The government has warned that businesses could also be liable if COVID-19 cases emerge at their establishments. Several major industrial plants have closed temporarily after employees tested positive for COVID-19, and further closures are likely at facilities where outbreaks occur.

Travel Restrictions
The government continues to ban all foreign travelers who have visited China's Hubei Province within 14 days of arrival from entering the country. Visa-free and visa-waiver programs remain suspended with countries that have banned entry by South Korean citizens. The restriction impacts travelers from 90 countries, including Australia, Canada, and most European nations. Authorities have also canceled existing short-term visas issued before April 5, requiring travelers to reapply for entry documents. The government plans to limit all but essential or urgent travel to South Korea by foreign nationals. Foreign nationals with long-term visas who wish to return to South Korea after traveling abroad must obtain re-entry permits before departing the country and present medical screenings with proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to South Korea.

Most incoming travelers, including those from the US and Europe, must undergo COVID-19 testing within three days of arrival. Mandatory testing remains in place for all travelers arriving from Europe. Authorities in Seoul require all inbound international passengers who intend to stay in the city to undergo COVID-19 tests upon arrival, regardless of nationality. Travelers with COVID-19 symptoms are screened immediately, while officials have arranged buses to transport other passengers from Incheon International Airport (ICN) to designated testing facilities in Seoul. Mandatory screenings are ongoing for international arrivals at all ports of entry, and testing is almost certain for symptomatic passengers. A 14-day self-quarantine requirement remains in place for all international travelers, regardless of testing outcomes. Foreigners who do not have a place of residence in South Korea are quarantined at government facilities at their own expense. Officials plan to intensify enforcement of self-quarantine amid reports of several violations of the order; police or health officials could verify compliance with self-quarantine orders.

Authorities are requiring some foreign passengers to receive a medical certificate confirming that they have tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of departing for South Korea. Passengers who do not have the certificates are banned from entering the country. Authorities are limiting visas for foreign nationals from six countries, including Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan; authorities have not specified the remaining two countries due to diplomatic reasons. Diplomats and people on urgent business travel are exempt from the restriction. The government is also requiring inbound foreign nationals to provide proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test upon entry and restricting flight capacity from these countries. The government continues to ban cruise ships from docking at ports in the country, including Jeju. Korean air carriers are gradually resuming flight operations, but service remains limited by flight restrictions. Authorities will suspend visa-free entry for foreign sailors into South Korea from July 24 due to the discovery of COVID-19 cases imported from sailors. Sailors must be issued visas and provide a negative polymerase chain reaction test, issued within 48 hours before departure, to enter the country. Airlines have suspended routes and reduced flights amid decreased demand.

Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers. Plan for possible ground shipping and travel delays; seek alternative routes and shipping methods for time-sensitive cargo.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

Back to the COVID-19 Risk Intelligence & Resource Center