Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: South Korea issues restrictions for entertainment venues as of May 9. Social distancing measures, travel, and quarantine orders in effect.

This alert affects South Korea

This alert began 09 May 2020 07:14 GMT and is scheduled to expire 22 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel disruptions, immigration delays, supply chain disruptions

Authorities have introduced regulations on some entertainment venues - including nightclubs and bars - nationwide after a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cluster emerged in Seoul. The advisory, which took effect at 2000 May 8, requests that affected venues close for one month. 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.

The cluster emerged after the government eased social distancing restrictions across the country from May 6 due to reduced coronavirus disease (COVID-19) activity. 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. 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 maintaining the alert level for COVID-19 at red, the highest level, despite improving conditions. The alert level empowers the government to implement movement restrictions, cancel school, and alter public transport services, among other measures. The government has encouraged work-from-home arrangements and arranged online classes for students, though officials intend to restart schools in the coming days. Local leaders in Seoul are maintaining a ban on gatherings at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul Plaza, and Cheonggye Plaza. Daegu leaders have limited public meetings and encouraged residents to stay at home. However, policy adjustments at the local level are likely in light of reduced national measures.

The government continues to ban cruise ships from docking at ports in the country, including Jeju. Korean air carriers are gradually resuming flight operations as of May 8 but remain limited by flight restrictions. Airlines have suspended routes and reduced flights amid decreased demand. Major industrial plants have closed in South Korea after employees tested positive for COVID-19, and similar disruptions remain possible. Officials will allow vacation for South Korean military personnel from May 8. US Forces Korea maintains a Public Health Emergency declaration through May 23 and continues to implement a ban on nonessential travel to Daegu and a stop for personnel slated to arrive in or depart South Korea. However, authorities could rescind the emergency declaration or lift some restrictions in the coming weeks.

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.

Officials require all arriving travelers from the US to 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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