Korea Cracks Down on Coronavirus Quarantine Breakers

Person exiting a subway station in Seoul, South Korea

Travelers coming from Europe and the United States are required by law to self-isolate for 14 days, with serious penalties imposed on those who fail to comply. Starting April 1, the Seoul government has expanded the two-week quarantine to be mandatory for all entrants from overseas.

Recently, there have been a few cases of people ignoring self-quarantine rules despite South Korea’s efforts to contain the coronavirus from abroad. Many of the new entrants under mandatory or recommended self-isolation have been caught going outside in violation of the rules, raising fears of community transmission of the coronavirus. 

A British man in his 30s in Suwon visited three other cities without wearing masks for five days and came into contact with 23 people before testing positive for the coronavirus last Tuesday, March 24.  The man was reportedly asked to self-isolate for two weeks after having a cough when he arrived at Incheon International Airport from Thailand on March 20. 

In violation of quarantine rules, he visited an indoor sports facility after a coronavirus test, as well as earlier visits to public places in Seoul and nearby cities. If found guilty of violating the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, the British national may face deportation or a claim for damages.

In one of the most controversial cases, a South Korean university student who recently returned from the U.S. traveled to Jeju Island for five days despite having respiratory symptoms. The 19-year-old woman returned to Korea on March 15. Instead of remaining at her home in Gangnam, she traveled to Jeju with her mother from March 20 to 24. Both of them were confirmed to have the coronavirus in Seoul on March 25.

They visited a hotel, a supermarket, a rental-car agent, and restaurants, which have now been temporarily shut down. Seventy people believed to have come into contact with them were ordered to self-isolate. The Jeju government will seek to file a criminal complaint against the two and a civil lawsuit to demand more than 100 million won (US$81,500) in damage incurred by the private businesses and residents.

Yongsan District in Seoul is investigating a Polish patient in his 40s for violating his 14-day quarantine. The Polish national was ordered to self-isolate from March 13 to 26 after coming into contact with another Polish national who tested positive. Violating the self-quarantine, he carried out outdoor activities and chores in his neighborhood. The district filed a complaint against the man with Yongsan Police Station. 

Foreigners who break their self-isolation without permission will be expelled from the country. Starting April 5, violators of the quarantine rules could be fined up to 10 million won or imprisoned for up to a year under the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act.

The Seoul metropolitan government and other local governments are set to take strong legal action against people who violate self-quarantine rules.

The total number of coronavirus cases in South Korea rose on Thursday, April 2  by 89 to 9,976. Eighteen were from overseas arrivals. There were 261 people released from quarantine and four deaths, bringing the number of current COVID-19 cases to 3,979.

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