By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan held a video conference on Friday to discuss cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic amid growing concern over the number of infected people arriving in their countries from overseas.
Though the epidemic erupted in China in December, and South Korea at one stage had the second-most infections, both subsequently succeeded in stifling domestic transmission of the virus. [L4N2BC3SC]
The number of cases in Japan has been far smaller, but Tokyo has the extra worry of whether to press ahead with hosting the Olympics this summer.
Japan was given expressions of support for hosting the Olympics during the video-conference call between the minister, according to South Korea’s foreign ministry.
The government remains committed to holding Games as planned in July, despite expectations that some 600,000 spectators and athletes would descend on Tokyo.
Japan has had 963 domestically transmitted cases and 33 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK. That does not include more than 700 cases and seven deaths from a cruise ship moored near Tokyo last month.
During their call, the ministers shared information on the outbreaks in their countries.
“I think the three countries need to work together to contain the spread of the coronavirus and minimize any resulting reduction on exchanges and cooperation between the peoples, as well as its economic and social impact,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at the outset of the call.
South Korea’s government said on Tuesday it will conduct a coronavirus check on all travelers from Europe and impose a two-week mandatory quarantine, starting Sunday, for those who intend staying long term.
“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.
Despite strong diplomatic and economic ties between the three North Asian neighbors, historic grievances dog their relations. And reduced flights, stronger border controls, and quarantine requirements introduced in response to the epidemic have proved irksome.
Earlier this month, Seoul suspended visas and visa waivers for Japan in a tit-for-tat move following Tokyo’s own travel restrictions on Koreans, triggering fears that their defenses against the virus could spark a fresh feud.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 87 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the total national infections to 8,652.
As of Thursday, there were 79 cases involving infected people who had recently arrived in the country, up from 44 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.
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 rose to 101, from 94.
South Korea’s election commission said on Friday it will disinfect all polling stations and carry out checks on voters when they show up to cast their ballots in the April 15 parliamentary election.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha and Hyunjoo Jin; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan & Simon Cameron-Moore)