South Korea increases health alert level as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Travel restrictions ongoing. Transport disruptions possible.

Severity: Warning Alert

This alert began 24 Feb 2020 02:51 GMT and is scheduled to expire 09 Mar 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Preventative restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Increased health screenings, immigration delays; possible quarantine

South Korea increased the alert level for novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to red - the highest level - late Feb. 23, as cases of the disease continue to increase. The heightened alert level empowers the government to shut down towns, cancel school, and alter public transport services, among others. As of Feb. 24, the government has not announced any nationwide travel restrictions, though authorities have delayed the start of school until March 9. Officials designated Daegu and Cheongdo County, where the outbreak is most intense, as special care zones, Feb. 21, allowing for more direct government intervention to respond to COVID-19 cases. However, new cases have been reported throughout much of the country, including Seoul, Busan, Gwangju, and Jeju.

As of Feb. 24, public transport disruptions are not occurring; however, officials may introduce altered schedules or increased health monitoring at public transport hubs in the coming days. Officials in Seoul have banned gatherings at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul Plaza, and Cheonggye Plaza - frequent gathering sites - since Feb. 21. Authorities also shuttered Shincheonji Church of Jesus branches in the capital after an outbreak occurred at a branch of the church in Daegu. Hundreds of members of the church in Daegu are self-quarantined and under health surveillance. Daegu leaders have limited public gatherings and encouraged the public to stay at home. The government has suspended vacation for military personnel, sleeping off base, and visitor meetings at installations nationwide as of Feb. 22. US Forces Korea has also barred staff from nonessential travel to Daegu since Feb. 21 and forced personnel who attended Shincheonji Church of Jesus services to self-quarantine. Additional local-level restrictions - including on public transport - are possible in the coming days.

Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, South Korean officials have not altered travel restrictions for foreign nationals. Authorities continue to conduct intensified health screenings for arriving passengers from Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China at all points of entry. Seoul has banned all foreign travelers who have visited China's Hubei Province in the past 14 days. South Koreans who traveled to Hubei Province will need to self-quarantine for 14 days. Authorities have established three quarantine areas at Incheon International Airport (ICN), where health officials are conducting enhanced screenings; passengers must receive clearance before they can enter the country. Authorities have also halted visa-free travel to Jeju Island, a popular Chinese tourist destination. The measures are unlikely to impact most travelers to South Korea significantly, but immigration and customs delays are likely for passengers from Greater China.

Officials have increased security at ports and airports across the country. As of Feb. 21, the government continues to ban cruise ships from docking at ports in the country, including in Jeju. Several South Korean airlines, including Korean Air (KE) and Asiana Airlines (OZ), have suspended routes to destinations in mainland China and reduced flights on others through late March amid decreased demand. Further transport restrictions and flight disruptions may occur.

Several governments have issued travel advisories for South Korea due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. The US is warning travelers to exercise increased caution, the second-lowest alert level. Meanwhile, Singapore and the UK have warned against nonessential travel to Daegu and Cheongdo County. Israel has issued an entry ban foreign nationals who have traveled to South Korea within 14 days before arrival. Additional restrictions on passengers from South Korea are possible.

Follow all official instructions. Do not attend rallies in outlawed areas due to possible fines. Allow additional time for immigration and health screenings, especially if traveling from Greater China. Consider delaying travel if experiencing symptoms associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays and possibly result in quarantine. Confirm travel restrictions before embarking on travel from South Korea.

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