Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: South Korea extends nationwide COVID-19 measures through Sept. 20; tighter controls to continue in Greater Seoul until Sept. 13.

Alert Begins 04 Sep 2020 10:00 AM UTC
Alert Expires 20 Sep 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 has extended nationwide Level 2 restrictions through at least Sept. 20 amid ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) activity. Under Level 2, the second-highest level in a three-tier response, officials request that people stay at home as much as possible, except to attend work or purchase essential items. The government is limiting indoor events to 50 people and outdoor activities to 100 people. All businesses designated as high risk, including nightclubs, internet cafes, karaoke bars, buffet restaurants, and private schools with over 300 students, and indoor public venues, such as museums and libraries, must close. Religious buildings must suspend in-person services. Authorities have also closed beaches nationwide. The government has also requested that companies allow employees to work from home if possible. The government continues to require people to keep a distance of at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) and wear protective face coverings in most places, including on public transport and private businesses.

Tighter, so-called Level 2.5, controls will continue in Greater Seoul until at least Sept. 13. Cafes in Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province cannot offer dine-in services, while dine-in service is only available until 2100 daily at other eateries; takeaway and delivery services can continue beyond 2100. Indoor sporting venues such as gymnasiums are closed. Government offices will operate with two-thirds of workers, while private offices are encouraged to reduce on-site employees similarly. Residents in the region must wear masks in public indoor areas and crowded outdoor areas, except when eating. Kindergartens, primary schools, and middle schools in the region are closed through Sept. 20; authorities require final-year high school students to attend in-person classes. Public gatherings are limited to 10 people in Seoul and Incheon, until at least Sept. 13. Seoul officials have also requested that residents delay nonessential travel until further notice. Gwangju municipality has banned gatherings at multiple venues, including religious and indoor sports facilities, through Sept. 10.

Authorities have mandated that high-risk 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 temporarily closed after employees tested positive for COVID-19, and 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 entering Gamcheon Port from Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, and Uzbekistan 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. 6, though further extensions of the measure are possible. US Forces Korea has raised the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) to Charlie, the second-highest level, as a precaution. The measure reduces staff numbers at US military installations across South Korea and requires service members to remain on base, except for official and essential duties. Other travel requires approval. 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 extension is 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.

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, and 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 as of Sept. 4. Similar arrangements are in place with 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 staying 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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