US President Donald Trump on Wednesday (US time) said it was “not the right time” for the US to restrict travelers from South Korea, though it may do so in the future.
“At a right time, we may do that. Right now, it’s not the right time,” he told a press conference on the novel coronavirus in Washington, adding the US was checking people arriving from infected areas.
“They are working on their countries, and we are working on our country, since, so far from our standpoint, it has worked out really well,” Trump said.
“South Korea’s been hit pretty hard. Italy’s been hit pretty hard. China, it’s obvious what’s happened in China, but again the numbers seem to be leveling off and going down in China, which is very good news. So we will see what happens.”
On the same day, the US State Department raised its travel advisory for Korea to the second highest of four levels, urging Americans to “reconsider travel” due to concerns of the highly contagious virus.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said the US had explained the move to Korea in advance, and the latest action would not affect Koreans’ entry into the US.
Concerns are growing that the US may toughen travel restrictions on its ally soon, as the outbreak shows no signs of abating.
On Thursday, Korea saw 505 new cases, the largest daily increase so far, bringing total infections to 1,766. It has the highest number of cases outside mainland China, which has reported over 78,000 confirmed cases.
Gripped by COVID-19 fears, more than three dozen countries have either barred entry to or tightened restrictions on travelers from Korea. Some 17 countries and territories, including Israel, Iraq, and Mongolia, are denying entry to foreign nationals who have visited Korea in the past two weeks.
Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Philippines are barring travelers from specifically Daegu and the neighboring county of Chengdo, North Gyeongsang Province, the areas hit hardest by the coronavirus here.
Meanwhile, some regions in China and 20 other countries have rigorous restrictions for anyone arriving from Korea, such as mandatory medical examinations and self-quarantine.
Seoul is making all-out efforts to prevent countries from taking further steps.
Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young spoke on the phone with US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, requesting the US refrain from taking “excessive measures that could unnecessarily shrink exchanges between the two countries.”
Lee Soo-hyuck, Seoul’s ambassador to Washington, said he was communicating closely with officials at the State Department and the White House to discuss the US government’s possible measures and repercussions and keep them informed about the Korean government’s efforts to contain the virus.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com