Coronavirus: South Korea, China, Japan to discuss outbreak response

Pedestrians wearing face masks walk at Gwanghwamun square in downtown Seoul, on March 12, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan held a video conference on Friday (March 20) to discuss cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic amid growing concern over the number of infected people arriving in their countries from overseas.

The ministers shared information on the outbreaks in their countries and explored ways to prevent the further spread of the virus while maintaining economic and people-to-people exchanges, Seoul officials said.

"This issue has a direct impact on the lives of the three nations' citizens", South Korean minister Kang Kyung-wha said as the meeting kicked off.

"I think the three countries need to work together to contain the spread of the coronavirus and minimise any resulting reduction on exchanges and cooperation between the peoples, as well as its economic and social impact."

Stronger border controls and a sharp cut in flights are taking a toll on exchanges between the three neighbours, adding to historical and territorial tensions that have often overshadowed their diplomatic and economic ties.

Earlier this month, Seoul suspended visas and visa waivers for Japan in a tit-for-tat move to Tokyo's own travel restrictions on Koreans, as fears over the coronavirus triggered a fresh feud.

Both China, where the flu-like virus first emerged, and South Korea, which suffered Asia's outbreak outside China, have seen a downward trend in locally transmitted infections.


The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 87 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the total national infections to 8,652.

The daily tally for new infections has been trending downward over the past week, despite a slight uptick on Thursday as small-scale outbreaks continued to emerge across the country.

South Korea's death toll stood unchanged at 94.

Of the new cases, 34 were from the hardest-hit city of Daegu where dozens of patients at several nursing homes have tested positive for the virus this week, the KCDC data showed.

South Korea's government said on Tuesday it will conduct a coronavirus check on all travellers from Europe and impose a two-week mandatory quarantine for those who will stay for a long term, starting Sunday.

"This is the toughest step we could take without banning entries from Europe, where the virus is spreading at an unexpected speed," Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry, told a briefing.

"We're also closely monitoring developments in the United States where the rate of the transmission has been increasing over the last few days."

The move came a day after tighter border checks took effect for all people arriving from overseas.

South Korea has established special entry procedures for visitors from hard-hit countries like China, Italy and Iran, requiring them to sign up by a smartphone application to track whether they have any symptoms such as fever.

As of Thursday, there were 79 cases involving infected people who had recently arrived in the country, up from 44 recorded on Sunday. Most of them were South Koreans, 27 came from Europe, 16 from China, and 12 from other Asian countries, according to the KCDC.

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