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Bills on disease response pass as parliament reopens after closure due to virus concerns


South Korea's parliament on Wednesday passed a set of bills to beef up government responses to infectious diseases as the country is striving to rein in the fast-spreading new coronavirus.

The lawmakers also formed a special committee on the virus crisis as the National Assembly reopened earlier in the day after a two-day closure for disinfection.

Its main buildings were shuttered Monday after it was discovered that a person infected with COVID-19 attended a parliamentary forum last week. Three opposition lawmakers who sat close to the patient at the conference underwent virus testing, and the results were negative.

In a plenary session in the afternoon, lawmakers approved three bills to revise acts on infectious diseases, quarantine and the medical service.

Under the amended infectious disease act, those who refuse to take a test ordered by health authorities could face up to a 3 million-won ($2,470) fine.

The health minister is also allowed to ban exports of face masks and hand sanitizers at a time of sharp price hikes or supply shortages, and the government can provide masks to vulnerable people including children and elderly people at state welfare facilities.

The health ministry must have at least 100 epidemiological investigators, up from the previous 30.

Under the revised quarantine act, the health minister can ask the justice minister to deny entry to foreigners coming from regions affected by or at risk of an epidemic.

The medical service amendment involves enhanced monitoring of inpatients, families and medial workers at hospitals.

Meanwhile, the legislature launched a special committee on the coronavirus consisting of 18 members and led by Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party.

Lawmakers also passed a confirmation motion for the appointment of judge Rho Tae-ak as a new Supreme Court justice. (Yonhap)