South Korea vowed Friday to take stern actions against a Chinese tourist who was arrested in central Seoul after fleeing COVID-19 isolation for two days.
The 41-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 immediately after arriving in Korea with his wife. He was sent to a quarantine facility near Incheon Airport, but escaped the facility on Tuesday.
"The escapee, who tested positive upon arrival in Korea and was arrested Thursday, will face serious punishment under the law and according to principle," said Kim Sung-ho, vice minister for disaster and safety management at the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
Kim presided over a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters at the Government Complex Sejong on Friday.
"We will continue to keep close tabs on the quarantine measures in Korea and abroad," he added.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Friday the government may "take additional measures" to prevent such an incident after consultations with experts over the shifting situation during his visit to Incheon Airport.
Han added that the increasing number of imported cases from China is a "variable" in its proposed decision to lift Korea's nationwide indoor mask mandate.
Quarantine authorities earlier revealed that the arrested tourist will be punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year, or a fine of up to 10 million won ($7,900). Those who violated the rule will also be subject to deportation and reentry ban "for a specific period of time" which is yet to be determined.
Authorities also hinted at revealing the violator's personal identity, following consultations with the police and immigration authorities.
Meanwhile, Kim also said those entering Korea from Hong Kong and Macau will be required to submit a valid negative COVID-19 test result -- a polymerase chain reaction test result 48 hours before arrival or a rapid antigen test 24 hours before -- upon arrival in Korea beginning Saturday. Those coming from Hong Kong and Macau will not be subject to additional testing upon arrival, unlike those from mainland China.
Nearly 1 in 4 entrants from China who took COVID-19 tests upon arrival in Korea tested positive from Monday until Thursday, according to quarantine authorities’ estimates. Of a total of 5,360 arrivals, 1,199 took the test and 277 tested positive.
These are the latest developments of Korea's effort to curb a spike in imported cases from China amid concerns in the wake of its phaseout of "zero-COVID” policy.
Earlier this week, Korea unveiled a new set of rules, including tighter short-term visa requirements at least by January and COVID-19 test mandate at least until the end of February.
The government has dispatched some additional 593 staff at Incheon Airport as of 11 a.m. Friday, including quarantine workers, police officers, soldiers, interpreters and airport employees. Currently, all flights from China to Korea are directed to Incheon Airport.
According to the Health Ministry, Korea has secured two more quarantine facilities for those entering from China, Hong Kong and Macau, bringing the total number of centers to three as of Friday.