A trip to South Korea offers glimpse at how the country prevents infection from travelers

SEOUL, South Korea — The pandemic has made us all face choices we’ve by no means needed to make. For me, one in every of them used to be to make a decision if it used to be protected sufficient to discuss with my folks right here or now not see them in any respect this 12 months. However because the weeks prolonged to months, I determined it used to be a possibility price taking.

Many nations have strict restrictions on American guests, with many requiring them to spend two weeks in quarantine. South Korea used to be no exception: I used to be informed I’d be required to obtain an app on the airport and self-quarantine for 2 weeks on arrival.

However that used to be only the start. It wasn’t till I arrived that I noticed the level of the federal government’s program to comprise the virus.

At Kennedy Airport’s global terminal in New York, most often full of strains of other people heading to locations the world over, all used to be silent. Take a look at-in counters had been empty and the flooring seemed as regardless that they’d been polished mins in the past.

The check-in assistant used to be pleasant and the method used to be seamless till she passed me a work of paper I had to signal acknowledging that I’d in quarantine for 14 days at a central authority facility on arrival. I defined to the airline agent that I had deliberate on staying with my folks.

The agent knowledgeable me that with out evidence my folks are living in Seoul, I’d be shuttled immediately to the federal government facility from the airport in Korea. I referred to as my folks in a panic, regardless that it used to be 2 a.m. there. Happily they’d the desired paperwork mendacity round from a couple of years again. They despatched me a screenshot of the record, which I was hoping can be sufficient after I landed.

A clinical employee speaks with a customer within the walk-thru checking out heart at H Plus Yangji Medical institution in Seoul, South Korea, in July. SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg by way of Getty Pictures record


Korean Air, like many different U.S. airways, had spaced out seats during the aircraft to stick to social distancing protocols. Whilst at the aircraft, I used to be passed 4 pages of paperwork to fill out, which incorporated 3 other shuttle declaration paperwork and an arrival card, moderately than the standard unmarried shape.

By the point I landed at Incheon Airport, the entirety felt sterile. Video partitions as soon as covered with “Welcome to Korea” ads had been changed by means of movies of dancing sharks advising other people the right way to stay blank and protected all the way through the pandemic. It seemed I had traveled at the simplest aircraft that had arrived on the terminal.

The primary table we handed whilst going throughout the terminal, which we might most often bypass, had a fastened warmth sensor digicam. I used to be stopped and requested a couple of questions and had my temperature checked.

I gave my U.S. cell phone quantity, however used to be informed I wished to offer a Korean one. I crossed off mine and changed it with my mother’s mobile quantity. They had been meticulous in analyzing the main points I had jotted down on all my paperwork.

On the subsequent checkpoint, I used to be informed to obtain the Korean authorities’s Covid-19 app, titled “Self-Quarantine Protection Coverage.” It had a monitoring instrument and I’d want to document my temperature and any signs two times day-to-day. The assistant hovered over me and watched me as I put in the app on my iPhone simply to ensure I had enabled signals and that the app used to be working always.

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On the 3rd checkpoint, I passed over my passport and shuttle paperwork prior to every other clerk showed my app used to be certainly downloaded correctly. They then referred to as the Korean quantity I had jotted down previous to substantiate it labored.

I used to be then passed every other 3 pages of paperwork to fill out, prior to staffers at two additional checkpoints verified the guidelines. That is the way it’s made up our minds whether or not vacationers want to quarantine. Failure to conform may just lead to as much as a 12 months in jail or as much as 10 million gained (just about $nine,000) in fines, in line with the Korean Illness Keep watch over and Prevention Company.

The final checkpoint prior to luggage declare used to be, amongst different issues, to ensure my folks’ data in order that I may just stick with them. On account of the paperwork I all of a sudden amassed proper prior to my flight, with only a screenshot of a work of paper from years in the past, I’d be exempt from quarantine. If the guidelines couldn’t be verified, I’d be taken immediately from the airport to a lodge and ordered to not depart for 2 weeks.

In spite of everything, I assumed I used to be at the different aspect. I used to be jet-lagged and I sought after to look my folks and cross house. However there can be another line. Guests are most often required to shuttle into Seoul by means of a government-certified taxi or commute bus.

However my folks can be riding me house, which supposed surrendering but additional information, this time offering my father’s mobile quantity and our house deal with.


The following morning, I used to be required to take a Covid-19 check. Whether or not you’re a foreigner or a Korean citizen, the checks are walk-ins they usually’re unfastened. As I waited for my flip, I overheard a gaggle of fellows say they’d won an alert a few case at a marriage they’d attended. It used to be fantastic seeing this touch tracing we’ve all transform so accustomed to going down in actual time.

Later that evening, my mother won a textual content from the native company to mention my check used to be unfavourable. I’d even be assigned a case agent who can be my touch all the way through my keep.

A bag arrived from the native authority tomorrow that contained a thermometer, a pack of disposable mask, two kinds of hand sanitizers and a rubbish bag. For the 2 weeks of my quarantine, I’d want to discard any of my rubbish within the government-mandated bag. I used to be informed it might be accrued on the finish of my keep.

On day seven of the quarantine, my mother won but every other name from my appointed Covid-19 touch. They sought after to talk with me. I used to be requested to substantiate that I used to be, in reality, me, prior to asking some questions and providing psychological well being products and services if I required one.

Each time a brand new case emerged in a neighboring the city, my iPhone would ping with a brand new notification, the similar noise telephones make when there’s an Amber Alert within the U.S. I’d get two or 3 of those signals nearly each day.

An worker, proper, assessments the temperature of a passenger in entrance of a departure gate at Incheon Global Airport in South Korea, in August.SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg by way of Getty Pictures record


The day prior to my flight again to the U.S., my native touch sought after to substantiate my flight main points. She additionally reminded us that I’d want to take the ones government-designated taxis to the airport, regardless of having been ready to experience at the side of my folks after I had landed. The taxis had been meticulously sterilized after each and every experience.

Having the ability to stroll round an airport felt liberating after two weeks caught within. Existence used to be again to commonplace — other people sat and ate at tables, which were roped off so we’d be socially distanced. We shared elevators. Shops had been open however foot site visitors used to be low.


It’s arduous to believe the U.S. with the ability to put into effect all of the measures utilized in South Korea. American citizens had been reluctant to put aside their privateness and freedom to necessities of protection and keep an eye on. South Korean tradition is extra conservative, a view shared extra broadly in Asian cultures with emphasis round respecting the aged that possibly trickles right down to how other people view authority.

On my aircraft house, I won one pamphlet from the CDC. “Prevent the Unfold of Covid-19: Do your section. For 14 days after your go back and forth, keep house. Track your well being.”

With that, I landed again at JFK. No forms, no app, no temperature assessments. I took an Uber which I booked from my iPhone, and went house.

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