S. Korea conducts unprecedented free-of-charge testing at airport
On Sunday, the first day to strengthen quarantine on those flying from Europe, 1,442 passengers arrived at Incheon International Airport, and 152 (10.5%) were separated as bearer of COVID-19 symptoms. Those who had fever or cough were sent to a quarantine facility at the airport, and others without symptoms were tested at a temporary living facility. Of those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, patients with minor symptoms are sent to a life treatment facility, and those who need more intensive care are transferred to hospital for treatment. Even after testing negative, South Koreans and foreigners staying for a long time are required to put themselves under house quarantine for 14 days. Admittedly, all these processes incur a significant amount of medical labor, administrative resources and financial costs.
In a way, it was inevitable for Seoul to tighten the grip on the human traffic from Europe as the spread of COVID-19 in the continent grew ever more explosive. As the pandemic is spreading across the United States, there is an increasingly vocal demand for imposing a stricter inspection on passengers from the States as well. In fact, among the newly confirmed cases in South Korea, more patients have come from the U.S. than Europe, which justifies the urgency of such demand. But the number of people flying from the U.S. is around 3,000 a day, two or three times larger than those from Europe. While a plan is underway to set up 40 “walking-through” clinics inside the airport and secure additional temporary living facilities in nearby cities, this will likely put a crippling strain on the national quarantine system, given the massive costs entailed in both administrative and medical sectors.
Testing is not the silver bullet in containing a virus, however. A solution must be devised to seal off the influx of virus into the country. Considering the gravity of the situation, it is even necessary to penalize unnecessary traveling, except unavoidable trips involving business, public service or academic affairs.
Meanwhile, Japan announced Monday that it will put restrictions on the entry of passengers from the U.S., following South Korea and China. The strategy is designed to make one’s stay uncomfortable by banning the use of public transportation from the airport and making them spend their own money on staying at a designated facility for two-week self-quarantine.
It has been almost a month since South Koreans participated in the “social distancing” for the safety of neighborhood and local communities. But such efforts would not be rewarded if the root cause of the problem – the influx of the virus from abroad – is not tackled. The case of a 17-year-old boy in Daegu, who died of pneumonia, shows how thin our medical resources are stretched at the moment. Does South Korea have enough finance and medical capacity to conduct total inspections and offer free treatment for thousands of people entering the country every day? It is time for the quarantine authorities to check their priorities once again.