Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: South Korea to continue COVID-19 restrictions through at least Oct. 11. Tighter measures in effect for Seoul and high-risk businesses.

Alert Begins 25 Sep 2020 10:14 AM UTC
Alert Expires 12 Oct 2020 11:59 PM UTC

  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel and business disruptions, immigration delays, quarantine requirements, gathering restrictions

South Korea will adjust its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions during a Special Prevention Period Sept. 28-Oct. 11 to limit transmission during the Chuseok holiday. Officials will extend most Level 2 restrictions, the second-highest level in a three-tier response, nationwide. Indoor events remain limited to 50 people and outdoor activities to 100 people. People must keep a distance of at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) and wear protective facemasks in most indoor places, including public transport and private businesses. Officials also continue to restrict attendance at religious services, though eased measures permit up to 50 people to attend services at religious buildings with a capacity greater than 300 people. Authorities have requested that people limit travel nationwide; however, no official restrictions are in place, and reports indicate millions of people will take trips during Chuseok.

The government will permit public indoor venues, such as museums and libraries, to reopen at 50 percent of capacity during the prevention period. The government will allow some designated high-risk businesses, including fitness classes, food buffets, and karaoke rooms, to continue operating in most of the country provided they follow social distancing regulations. However, other high-risk establishments, such as nightclubs and bars, must close Sept. 28-Oct. 5. Local governments can extend the closures through Oct. 11 if conditions warrant. Tighter measures will continue in the Seoul metropolitan area, including Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, through at least Oct. 11. All high-risk businesses in the region must remain closed, and owners must strictly enforce social distancing procedures. Authorities are maintaining a ban on public rallies of more than 10 people in Seoul through the prevention period.

High-risk businesses must 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 requested that companies allow employees to work from home if possible. Several major industrial plants and offices have temporarily closed after employees tested positive for COVID-19; further closures are likely at facilities where outbreaks occur.

Officials continue to ban cruise ships from docking at ports in the country, including Jeju. Busan requires ships from Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, and Uzbekistan entering Gamcheon Port to use the QR code system to enhance contact tracing for crew members. Korean air carriers are gradually resuming flight operations, but service remains limited. International flight disruptions are likely to continue amid decreased demand.

The Ministry of Defense has halted vacation and other off-base activity through Sept. 27, though further extensions of the measure are possible. US Forces Korea (USFK) has lowered the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) from Charlie to Bravo, the second-lowest level, for most of the country since Sept. 24. However, HPCON Charlie, the second-highest level, remains in place for most of the Greater Seoul area. The alert level reduces staff numbers at US military installations and requires service members to stay on base, except for official and essential duties. Other travel requires approval. Travel to installations in Greater Seoul remains suspended, except for official visits; however, personnel in the region can travel to bases under HPCON Bravo for approved reasons. Officials are conducting health checks for all personnel at entrance points. A USFK Public Health Emergency declaration remains in place through at least Nov. 18; further extensions are possible. The US Department of Defense has lifted restrictions on personnel travel to and from South Korea. Inbound personnel must undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival, quarantine for 14 days, and receive a second test before release. Authorities will release personnel from isolation after 20 days regardless of testing outcomes.

Travel Restrictions
Visa-free and visa-waiver programs remain suspended with countries that have banned entry for South Korean citizens, impacting travelers from 90 countries. Long-term visa holders resident in South Korea must obtain permits before departing the country and present medical screenings with proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before reentry. Authorities have suspended visa-free entry for foreign sailors, who must obtain visas and provide a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test result issued within 48 hours before departure to enter the country. The government is limiting visas and flight capacity for passengers from Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Uzbekistan. Officials also require a medical certificate confirming that inbound travelers received a negative PCR COVID-19 test result within 48 hours of departure. Diplomats and people on urgent business travel from these high-risk countries are exempt from the restriction.

Authorities allow "fast track" entry for essential business trips and official travel from Singapore, mainland China, UAE, and Indonesia. Under the agreements, inbound travelers must provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 96-72 hours, depending on the country, and a health certificate. Travelers must also take another COVID-19 test upon arrival and await the result before entering South Korea and continue to abide by health surveillance procedures.

Most incoming travelers must undergo COVID-19 testing within three days of arrival. Mandatory screenings are ongoing for international arrivals at all ports of entry nationwide, and testing is almost certain for symptomatic passengers. Authorities in Seoul require all inbound passengers remaining in the city to undergo COVID-19 tests upon arrival. Officials will screen travelers with COVID-19 symptoms immediately and transport other passengers from Incheon International Airport (ICN) to designated testing facilities in Seoul. A 14-day self-quarantine requirement remains in place for all international travelers, regardless of testing outcomes. Officials will quarantine foreigners who do not have a residence in South Korea at government facilities at the traveler's expense.

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.

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