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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Covid test no longer required to fly into Korea

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People wait to get tested for the coronavirus at a testing site in Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. [YONHAP]
People wait to get tested for the coronavirus at a testing site in Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

People arriving in Korea will no longer need to show a recent Covid-19 test result starting Saturday.
But they still need to get one in Korea soon after landing.
The waiving of a test before boarding a flight is applicable to all Koreans and foreigners regardless of their vaccination status.

After arriving, everyone must get a PCR test within the following day of landing. 

Korean nationals and long-term foreigners can take advantage of free PCR tests at a local public health center. Short-term foreigners must pay for their own PCR tests at an airport Covid-19 testing site or a local medical institute.

But pre-arrival Covid-19 tests could be required again in the future, officials warned.

Peck Kyong-ran, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said in a Wednesday briefing that “if the situation [of the pandemic] changes” with the rise of a deadly new coronavirus variant, the government will reimplement the pre-arrival Covid-19 test requirement and “swiftly strengthen immigration controls.”

Right now, all travelers must prove they are Covid-negative before boarding their flights to Korea and submit the negative Covid-19 test certificate after they land.

The test must be a supervised Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) taken within 24 hours of the departure date or a PCR test taken within 48 hours.

This changes on Saturday.

“Starting from Friday midnight, [the Korean government] will entirely scrap the pre-arrival Covid-19 test requirement for all inbound travelers,” the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said in a statement on Wednesday.

Health officials dismissed suggestions from reporters that on-arrival PCR Covid testing should be scrapped as well. They also said they weren’t thinking of allowing travelers to submit RAT results rather than PCR, citing the test’s low accuracy rate for asymptomatic Covid patients.

In explaining why the Korean government decided to do away pre-arrival testing, KDCA’s Peck noted in the Wednesday briefing that the spread of the virus was slowing around the world, including in Korea.

The fact that the Chuseok holidays are around the corner and many Koreans are expected to fly in to visit families was also considered, Peck explained.

The latest announcement came as the nation reported 103,961 new Covid cases on Tuesday.

Over the past week, Korea has seen about 94,000 cases on average per day. There were 115,638 new patients registered on Monday.

Local health officials said Wednesday that the country already seemed to be past the peak of the sixth wave and will now see fewer cases than in previous weeks.

One looming risk, however, will be next week’s Chuseok, which lasts from Sept. 9 to 12.

This year’s Chuseok will be the first in three years without social distancing regulations. In the past, the government tried to discourage family gatherings out of fear of new clusters.

For the first time since 2019, all toll fees will be exempted on national highways, a policy the government started in 2017. Eating on buses and trains will also be allowed.

On another front of battling the virus, the government on Wednesday announced that it plans to introduce retooled Covid vaccines in the fourth quarter of this year to help vulnerable patients better fight the BA.5 omicron variant.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]