Travelers arrive at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul,on Sunday. (Yonhap)
People who have been vaccinated overseas against COVID-19 will be exempted from the mandatory two-week quarantine upon arrival in South Korea starting Thursday.
The new policy applies to Korean nationals and foreigners alike if they are entering Korea to do important business or serve the public interest, for academic or humanitarian purposes, or to visit immediate family.
Previously, Korea waived the self-isolation rule only for those vaccinated in Korea starting May 5.
To be exempted from the quarantine rule, travelers have to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before traveling here. They also have to be inoculated with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization -- Pfizer, Janssen, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covidshield, Sinopharm or Sinovac.
To gain exemption, the traveler must fill out an application form prior to departure and submit relevant documents to a Korean diplomatic mission overseas. These include vaccination certificates, written statements and documents proving family relationships.
All travelers also need to submit a negative COVID-19 PCR test result issued within 72 hours of departure. Without it, they will have to undergo a two-week quarantine upon arrival.
However, visitors from 21 high-risk countries where COVID-19 variant case numbers are high will not be allowed to skip the quarantine.
As of Wednesday, these countries were South Africa, Brazil, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Republic of Suriname, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Equatorial Guinea, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina, Malta, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.
A Foreign Ministry official said the new exemptions were introduced in consideration of citizens who have been unable to see their families due to the prolonged COVID-19 situation, as well as the rising vaccination rate.
Immediate family members are defined as spouses, lineal ascendants or descendants, and lineal ascendants or descendants of spouses. They do not include siblings. When asked whether the government would exempt visiting siblings from quarantine, the official said it would consider doing so after taking the quarantine situation into account.
Since applications opened early this week, overseas missions have been flooded with applications. Korean missions in the US received 5,000 applications on Monday, the day they opened.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org