SEOUL, Jan 4 (Reuters) – South Korean authorities said on Wednesday they were trying to track down a Chinese national who tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival but went missing while waiting at a quarantine facility.
The person tested positive after arriving at Incheon International Airport near Seoul late on Tuesday and was transferred to a hotel to await admission to quarantine, but then went missing, a health official said.
The individual, who was not identified, has been placed on a wanted list, the official, Kim Joo-young, said.
The person could be subject to up to one year in prison, or 10 million won ($7,840) in fines, if convicted of violating the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, he said.
“The person would be deported and banned from entering the country for a certain period of time,” Kim told a media briefing.
On Tuesday, South Korea announced mandatory coronavirus tests on Chinese arrivals, joining a growing list of countries imposing restrictions amid concern over a wave of infections following China’s decision to lift stringent zero-COVID policies.
Starting this week, South Korea required travellers from China to undergo a PCR test upon arrival. From Jan. 5, arrivals can submit a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before departure, or a negative rapid antigen test no more than 24 hours before departure.
A total of 2,189 people have arrived from China since Jan. 2 and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 590 test results showed that 136 people, or 22.7% of them, were infected with COVID.
On Tuesday, 26% of 281 people tested produced a positive result, agency data showed.
The case of the missing Chinese national triggered questions in the media about South Korea’s control of infected inbound travellers.
Kim, the health official, said it was a “disgrace” that authorities could not prevent such an incident.
“Going forward, we will dispatch more personnel including police to prevent this from recurring,” he said.
The case also fuelled public debate on restrictions on people arriving from China.
“There needs to be more restrictions,” said Lee Jae-moon, 30, waiting for someone to arrive at Incheon airport. “Today’s incident underlines the seriousness of the situation.”
But another South Korean, Won Mi-kyong, 51, disagreed saying China was an important economic partner and South Korea should “open the door wider” to its people.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Hanna Song and Dogyun Kim; Editing by Neil Fullick, Robert Birsel
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