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1339 ready to help foreigners with virus queries

Exemptions encourage illegal immigrants to seek help without penalty

Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

Health authorities are increasing efforts to help protect foreigners here amid the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Korea Herald that language services are being provided via the centers’ hotline 1339 for patients and suspected patients of foreign nationalities.

The KCDC call service will soon have a voice message in English and has made available a three-way call with interpreters to accommodate callers who do not speak Korean.

Other public institutions have introduced round-the-clock emergency call operators for foreigners.

The Justice Ministry-run Immigration Service hotline 1345 has been running 24 hours since Jan. 28.

The call service, offered in 20 languages, informs callers of locations of government-designated clinics and hospitals, infection prevention guidelines and updates on the virus situation here. But the service is limited to Korean, English and Chinese between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m.

An official at the immigration service told The Korea Herald the Justice Ministry was working closely with the KCDC to protect and aid foreigners during the crisis.

In addition, illegal immigrants seeking virus-related medical help will not face consequences.

Foreigners staying illegally are encouraged to consult medical professionals at facilities designated for treating the virus if suspicions of infection arise, the ministry said.

The ministry said it was not requiring health officials to report illegal immigrants or collect their information during screening or treatment, as per immigration laws.

Korea Tourism Organization hotline 1330 is also offering 24-hour counseling and interpretation services in English, Japanese and Chinese.

The KCDC said health centers and medical institutions across the country were procuring language help from district tourist and immigration offices.

Min Gyu-lee, director of the disease control division at the Seong-dong district health center, told The Korea Herald that a Chinse-speaking official has been assigned to emergency interpretation duty.

“The Seong-dong district office dispatched the official to the health center to handle interpretations at the clinic,” she said.

Min said, however, there were no other officials to take charge of other language needs for the time being.

“As China is a region of high risk, since the epidemic originated there, our initial emergency measures focused on that,” she said. “So far, no instance of communication difficulties has come to our attention, and we will continue to see that foreign visitors aren’t neglected in our care.”

By Kim Arin (