Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: South Korean officials to enhance restrictions on some businesses, require inspections as of June 1. Travel, quarantine orders in effect.

This alert affects South Korea

This alert began 01 Jun 2020 09:30 GMT and is scheduled to expire 15 Jun 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel and business disruptions, immigration delays, quarantine requirements

South Korean authorities will begin enhancing measures to improve contact tracing and ensure manufacturing, construction, and logistics sites follow directives to stem the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from June 1. Officials plan to begin inspections at nearly 40,000 construction, distribution and logistics, manufacturing, and call center sites nationwide to ensure companies are taking precautions to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks. Additionally, authorities plan to implement a nationwide system that will require businesses to scan a quick response (QR) code before allowing patrons to enter establishments to improve contact tracing. Some facilities in Seoul, Incheon, and Daejeon will first test the system before the measure is rolled out nationwide from June 10. Although the government has not confirmed which companies are required to carry out customer scans, reports indicate the measure will affect businesses considered high risk, such as bars and karaoke facilities. The requirement could also impact cinemas, restaurants, and religious buildings.

Officials continue to impose enhanced restrictions in the Seoul metropolitan area, including Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, through June 14, following a rise in cases in the area. Local governments have closed multiple facilities, including museums, parks, and art galleries, and are encouraging people to avoid social gatherings. Authorities will also recommend that religious institutions exercise caution regarding social distancing and for companies to implement flexible working practices. Schools have reopened in most parts of the country, but officials in parts of the Seoul metropolitan area and other areas have delayed reopening.

Health officials are maintaining the alert level for COVID-19 at red, the highest level, empowering the government to implement movement restrictions, cancel school, and alter public transport services, among other measures. However, South Korean authorities do not plan to reinstate nationwide social distancing restrictions. As part of the "distancing in daily life" scheme, residents must keep two meters (6.5 feet) of space from others when in public, stay home for at least three to four days if feeling ill, wear masks, maintain personal hygiene, and ventilate indoor areas regularly. The government has encouraged work-from-home arrangements to continue. Authorities have allowed gatherings to resume and reopened public sites, such as indoor sports facilities and museums. Religious activity, gyms, national parks, and other outdoor public areas are also open. Under the scheme, owners and staff at open facilities must maintain distancing measures to limit the spread of the disease.

Authorities are requiring people to wear masks to access public transport, including buses, taxis, and subway trains, as well as for domestic and international airline passengers. The government has temporarily eased enforcement of a law requiring transport operators to provide service to all passengers, and drivers will not allow people without face coverings to board. Officials continue to regulate some entertainment venues, including nightclubs and bars, with authorities requesting that affected sites remain closed through at least June 8. Businesses that remain open must require customers to wear masks and log their contact information before they enter. Officials will fine owners ignoring the guidance. The government has warned that businesses could also be liable if COVID-19 cases emerge at their establishments. Several major industrial plants have closed in South Korea after employees tested positive for COVID-19, and further closures are likely at facilities where outbreaks occur.

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. Airlines have suspended routes and reduced flights amid decreased demand.

US Forces Korea (USFK) has lowered its Health Protection Condition (HPCON) level to Bravo, the second-lowest level, as of 0600 May 20. Authorities will allow service members to resume off-base activities in most parts of the country, except Seoul; however, military personnel remain banned from entering bars and clubs throughout the country. Authorities have expanded a USFK Public Health Emergency declaration through Aug. 20.

Several governments have issued travel advisories for South Korea due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. The US is maintaining its warning on South Korea at Level Three (Reconsider Travel), the second-highest alert level in a four-tiered ranking system. Nearly 150 countries are enforcing travel bans or requiring quarantines for passengers from South Korea. Governments could impose or alter restrictions on travelers from South Korea in the coming days and possibly weeks.

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. A suspension of visa-free and visa-waiver programs with countries that have entry bans for South Korean citizens remains in place. 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 for foreign nationals to the country. From June 1, 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.

All arriving travelers from the US 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 receive checks 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 likely for symptomatic passengers. A 14-day self-quarantine requirement remains in place for all international travelers, regardless of testing outcomes. Authorities will quarantine foreigners who do not have a place of residence in the country at government facilities at their own expense. Officials intend 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.

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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