Starting Monday, all Seoul residents, with or without respiratory symptoms, can get tested for the novel coronavirus free of charge.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced it is stepping up its campaign to stop the “silent” spread of the deadly pathogen in the capital region, home to about 10 million people.
Previously, asymptomatic persons wishing to receive a COVID-19 diagnostic test on their own had to pay about 160,000 won ($133) if their test results came back negative.
All residents in the capital can apply via the city’s website and will be tested on a first-come-first-serve basis, city officials said.
The free testing, however, is limited to once per person and is only at seven city-run hospitals, including Boramae Medical Center and Seoul Medical Center. There is also a weekly cap of 1,000 persons.
To avoid overburdening the country’s testing capacity, samples from five to 10 individuals will be pooled and tested together. Only if the pool results are positive will the samples be tested individually.
The municipality expects to offer free testing to some 200,000 people in the second half of this year.
The measure comes as Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province are grappling with a rise in new infections linked to small religious gatherings, sports facilities and promotional events and, more alarmingly, cases whose transmission routes remain unknown.
Also of Monday, the Seoul government recommended the closure of some 350 table tennis clubs in the capital and banned network marketing companies from organizing promotional events, until further notice.
Health authorities have so far identified 22 coronavirus cases linked to a table tennis club in Seoul’s Yangcheon-gu and 52 to local retailer Richway which relied on events in enclosed spaces to promote its products.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com