A rapid growth in tourist numbers is bringing joy to and causing concern among residents of Jeju, the southern holiday island increasingly favored by locals as an alternative to overseas travel amid the COVID-19 outbreaks.
Tourist arrivals on Jeju Island have rapidly recovered to pre-coronavirus levels in recent months to the delight of its tourism sector, but residents are concerned about growing COVID-19 cases among visitors.
According to Jeju provincial authorities on Sunday, the number of tourists who visited Jeju last month was 880,000, nearly double from 470,000 in the same month of last year.
The latest monthly tally also represented 85 percent of the pre-COVID-19 level of 1.03 million recorded for the same month in 2019. Provincial officials say Jeju's tourist arrivals were rapidly recovering to pre-pandemic levels.
At the same time, however, unknown numbers of coronavirus carriers among tourists are posing a headache to both Jeju residents and quarantine officials.
Eleven of 12 COVID-19 cases confirmed on the island in the first seven days of this month were from visitors from the mainland or Jeju residents who contracted the virus from tourists.
To the dismay of Jeju residents, some infected tourists were found to have come to Jeju despite having suspected symptoms of COVID-19 or learning of infections of fellow workers before entering the island.
"Coronavirus cases are rising among visitors as spring tourism becomes more active in April," a Jeju provincial government official said, urging island residents to observe social distancing rules in dealing with visitors.
A senior official from the Jeju Tourism Organization also said that the authorities of Jeju have no choice but to focus on antivirus measures for now. "Jeju residents are concerned about COVID-19 transmissions from tourists, but they also know well that the island's economy itself will be hit hard if the tourism industry is stagnant," the official said. (Yonhap)