As part of ongoing efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), South Korean authorities have eased domestic business and gathering restrictions as of Oct. 12. Stricter measures will be maintained in Seoul. Under the Level-1 restrictions, nationwide limits on gathering participants have been lifted. Individuals are still required to wear protective face coverings on public transportation, in most public indoor areas, and at any large gathering events.
Specific measures imposed vary by location and intensity based on local disease activity. Despite the relaxation of generalized controls, localized business closures are likely to occur at any establishments where employees or patrons test positive for COVID-19. 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.
Some stricter controls have been maintained in greater capital region. Demonstrations are banned throughout downtown Seoul. Outside of downtown Seoul, protests of up to 100 people may occur, though participants are required to wear protective face coverings. Door-to-door sales activity remains prohibited. Religious services and stadiums are limited to 30 percent capacity. Previously closed high-risk establishments, such as nightclubs and bars, have reopened, though they must comply with social distancing and capacity controls.
High-risk businesses are required to 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.
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.
US Forces Korea (USFK) has maintained Health Protection Condition (HPCON) 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.
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, Japan, UAE, and Indonesia. Under the agreements, inbound travelers must provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 71-96 hours, depending on the country, and a health certificate. Travelers must also take another COVID-19 test upon arrival, 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 travel 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.