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[Editorial] Korea-phobia

With COVID-19 surge, Korean travelers denied entry overseas

With a surge of infections of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, South Korea has reached the pitiful state where it is treated as a “second Wuhan” in the international community.

Hong Kong barred entry to nonresident travelers coming from Korea beginning Tuesday.

Israel was one of the first countries to deny entry to visitors from Korea. On Saturday it sent back about 170 Koreans, on the same flight that brought them there, soon after they entered the country. Israel also announced it would repatriate the 1,000 or so Korean tourists on flights it would provide.

Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, put on hold the entry of 17 Korean newlywed couples on Sunday afternoon, apparently due to concerns about the virus, and isolated them in temporary accommodations after seizing their passports.

Taiwan raised its travel advisory for Korea from level 1 to level 2 on Sunday and a day later raised it again to the highest level, 3, advising Taiwanese to avoid all nonessential travel to Korea.

The Philippine government has not imposed a travel ban on Korea, but Filipino travelers have been advised to delay nonessential travel to the country.

Macao has classified Korea as a high-risk country for the virus and is conducting separate quarantine checks on visitors from Korea at a designated facility.

The US raised its advisory for Korea to level 3, which means that Americans should avoid nonessential travel to Korea. Brunei, Britain, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Uganda have tightened the monitoring of travelers from Korea.

In a nutshell, Korea-phobia is spreading.

The root cause of Koreans being shunned is that the government did not stop the influx of the virus from China.

China was so desperate to contain the virus that it imposed draconian restrictions on the domestic movement of about half of its population. On the other hand, it lets people unaffected by the measure go abroad and Korea accepts them. Until only about a week ago, the Moon administration had shown confidence of overcoming the disease and expressed willingness to help China.

Then the tables were turned.

On Sunday night, when the Korean government raised the alarm level from “vigilance” to “serious,” the highest level, an airport in Yanji, in China’s Jilin province, began to require passengers on flights from Korea to use a separate corridor. The airport said the move was to prevent the influx of the coronavirus from Korea to China.

Some apartment buildings in Beijing have reportedly insisted that Koreans quarantine themselves for 14 days before entering.

The Chinese Consulate General in Busan is said to have advised Chinese students who have not yet come to Korea for the spring semester to delay their travel plans. This sends the message that it is safer to be in China than Korea.

Referring to Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy, a propaganda outlet for the Chinese Communist Party said in an editorial on Monday that “we are concerned that these countries have taken inadequate measures to prevent the spread of the disease.” It was a rebuke.

President Moon Jae-in made a phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 20 and reportedly said, “China’s suffering is South Korea’s suffering.” It seems that his wish has been realized. However, given the response from China after the virus began running rampant in Korea, it is doubtful that Koreans will hear Xi say, “South Korea’s suffering is China’s suffering.”

The Korean health and welfare minister said “Koreans were the source of infection more often than Chinese were.” The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, but he blames Koreans. It smacks of self-degradation.

The minister also said “it is not right from the perspective of disinfection to bar a certain people, a certain country, from entering.” No one in the government explains why it is not right, despite lives being at stake.

Koreans are denied entry overseas, sometimes without prior notice. It is humiliating. The virus was transmitted from China to Korea, but now Beijing treats Seoul as a new source of infection. What a state Korea is in!
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