South Korea has denied entry to eight foreign nationals after they refused to comply with strict quarantine requirements introduced this week to help the country tackle a rise in coronavirus infections, as anger mounts over visitors who have been caught breaking self-isolation rules.
The visitors, from six countries, were deported after they refused to self-isolate for two weeks, the justice ministry said. Media reports said the passengers had been informed of the rules before they boarded their flights.
The rule, which came into force on Wednesday, requires all overseas arrivals – including South Koreans – to quarantine at home or at government-designated facilities for 14 days.
It is not clear if the eight deported people had been asked to self-isolate at home or were to be taken to a government-designated facility.
Those making short-term visits must stay at government-designated facilities, according to the ministry of health and welfare, and are charged about 100,000 won (£65) a day throughout their quarantine. Visitors who are permitted to quarantine at home must install a smartphone app that enables authorities to track their movements in real time.
According to government data, 35% of South Korea’s newly confirmed Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks were people who had arrived from overseas, Yonhap news agency said.
The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, said people who violated the quarantine rules would be subject to “strong legal measures”.
“We need to take stronger measures and impose more thorough restrictions [on people arriving from overseas] as the number of imported infections grows,” Moon said just before the rules went into force, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily newspaper.
“In case they violate the quarantine measures, [the government] needs to respond with stern and strong legal measures in order to protect the safety of the local community.”
Those who skip quarantine face up to three years in prison or a maximum fine of 10m won. Foreign violators also face deportation and could be barred from re-entering the country.
The authorities are considering taking legal action against a British man living in the city of Suwon, who allegedly broke self-quarantine rules after returning from a trip to Thailand last month.
The man, who has since tested positive for Covid-19, visited other cities, played golf and came into contact with more than 20 people, the Suwon city council said on its website.
The mayor of Suwon, Yeom Tae-young, said in a Facebook post that the city would “deal with this sternly”.
South Korean media have reported similar incidents involving a Polish man who had been ordered to self-isolate after his friend tested positive, and a German student in the city of Busan who had arrived from the US via Japan.
Instead of isolating himself, he reportedly visited a beach, took the subway and played basketball with friends, according to the Busan municipal government. He continued to spend time outside, even after developing a cough and a fever.
The incidents have sparked anger on South Korean social media. “Why do they think they can break the rules that we have to abide by?” one user wrote. “Do they think they are above the law?”
Another wrote: “The government should keep them out. After all, South Koreans are banned from entering most countries in the world now.”
Immigration authorities are making no exceptions, as Nina Baeva discovered when she and her South Korean partner arrived at Incheon airport on 1 April, the day the quarantine measures went into effect.
Baeva, who has requested that her real name not be used, had flown from a European country but expected to see out the 14-day quarantine at her partner’s apartment in the capital.
“We were informed [before boarding] that we would be tested and required to quarantine at our accommodation or a government facility. We relied on the fact that we have our own accommodation [in Seoul],” Baeva, who entered the country on a 90-day visa waiver, told the Guardian.
Baeva’s partner went to his private address, while she was spending her third day at a government quarantine centre on Friday.
“I couldn’t sleep last night due to the anxiety and jet lag. I am emotionally broken. I cannot find any other way to describe my status. I am crying continuously. I am almost hoping to test positive so that I can go to a hospital.”
A spokesman for Korean Air said the airline and other carriers flying to South Korea were “very clear about the government’s measures, which are explained to each passenger at check-in and at the departure gate”.
He added: “We would not tell anyone that they would be able to choose between staying at a private accommodation or a government facility. If someone is arriving on a short-term visa waiver, they are told that they will have to be isolated at at a government facility.”