South Korea is to temporarily suspend visa-free entry and visa waiver programmes with countries imposing entry bans on Koreans, as it seeks to stem imported cases of the coronavirus.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said this in Seoul on Wednesday at a pan-government meeting to discuss ways to contain COVID-19.
Chung also said the government would expand entry restrictions on foreigners travelling for reasons considered not essential and urgent.
“While maintaining the basis of openness, the government will strengthen (entry) restrictions in accordance with reciprocity,” the prime minister said.
The stricter move comes as imported cases of the new coronavirus have accounted for the bulk of new infections.
A total of 148 countries, including 41 European nations and 36 countries in Asia and the Pacific, have imposed entry bans on South Koreans over the coronavirus outbreak, according to quarantine authorities.
The government’s measures will be applied to 88 countries.
South Korea runs visa-free entry programmes with 34 countries, such as Australia and Canada, and holds visa waiver treaties with 54 countries, like France, Russia, and Thailand.
South Korea did not go so far as to slap entry bans on foreigners, but the new steps will make it harder for foreigners to visit the country.
Since April 1, South Korea has imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine on all international arrivals in a bid to stem the rise in imported cases.
South Korea reported 53 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 10,384.
Of the new caseload, 24 cases, or 45 per cent, were presumed to come from abroad.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim
Students return to school for classes in Seoul, S. Korea
Students return for classes at Seryun Elementary School in Seoul, South Korea, May 27, 2020. According to a phased school reopening plan of South Korea’s Ministry of Education, a second batch of students, including the second-year high school students, middle school seniors, the first and second grades students of elementary school and kindergarten students, returned to school on Wednesday. (Photo by Lee Sang-ho/Xinhua)
S.Korea’s childbirth posts double-digit fall in March
South Korea’s childbirth posted a double-digit fall in March, fueling worry about a so-called demographic cliff, statistical office data showed Wednesday.
The number of newborn babies was 24,378 in March, down 10.1 percent from a year earlier, according to Statistics Korea. It was the lowest March figure since data began to be compiled in 1981.
During the January-March quarter, the childbirth was 74,050. It was down 11.0 percent from a year earlier.
The total fertility rate, which measures the number of babies a woman is forecast to bear during lifetime, was 0.90 in the first quarter, down 0.12 from a year earlier.
The total fertility rate of 2.1 is required to keep the country’s total population at a current level.
The continued slide in newborns came amid the rising social trend of delayed marriage and the falling number of women who are of childbearing age.
The number of marriages fell 1.0 percent from a year earlier to 19,359 in March, and the number of divorces dipped 19.5 percent to 1,773.
The falling childbirth stoked concerns about the demographic cliff, which refers to a sudden drop in the heads of household eventually leading to a consumption cliff.
The low birth rate has been a headache for the economy as it leads to the lower workforce amid the rapidly-aging population, which could drag down the country’s growth potential.
The number of deaths grew 3.6 percent over the year to 25,879 in March, posting the highest in five years.
Because of the reduced childbirth and the increased death, the country’s population slipped for the fifth consecutive month.
S. Korea’s Unification Minister visits estuary to renew commitment to inter-Korean cooperation
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul is to visit an estuary of the Han River near the border with North Korea on Wednesday in an effort to renew South Korea’s commitment to jointly using the waterway with the communist nation.
Under a military agreement signed at a 2018 summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the two sides agreed on the joint use of the Han River estuary along their western border and conducted a joint waterway research.
But the project has stalled since the no-deal summit between the North and the United States in February last year.
The unification minister’s visit to the estuary is seen as aimed at sending a message to the North that it remains committed to the project.
“The visit has been arranged so that (the minister) can see for himself the site of the Han River estuary and follow up on the inter-Korean agreement, and to hear the voices of the local government and related authorities,” the ministry said.
The Han River estuary is a waterway along the inter-Korean border that allows, in theory, civilian ships from the two Koreas to sail freely within the area according to an armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.
But military tensions between the two sides have since made it realistically impossible for the joint use of the waterway, the ministry said.
The ministry said it will push ahead with the project and transform the estuary into a site of peace, given its ecological, historic, and economic value, despite the impasse in inter-Korean relations.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
BMW unveils face-lifted 5, 6 Series in S. Korea
BMW on Wednesday unveiled the face-lifted 5 and 6 Series models in South Korea to show its “strong and unwavering” commitment to the Northeast Asian market due to robust demand for its models.
The German carmaker held a digital world premiere at its driving centre in Incheon, just west of Seoul, to reveal the upgraded BMW 523d sedan, the 530e plug-in hybrid sedan, and the BMW 640i xDrive Gran Turismo model, BMW Korea said in a statement.
“The fact that we can even host this event today at the Driving Center, underscores the decisive and comprehensive actions taken by Korea at an early stage, to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Pieter Nota, head of BMW sales, said in an online message for the event.
He underlined the importance of the Korean market, as the nation topped all other countries in terms of sales of BMW 5 Series models in Korea from January to April.
BMW said it plans to launch the three upgraded models in Korea in the fourth quarter of this year.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
S. Korea reports 40 more COVID-19 cases, 11,265 in total
South Korea reported 40 more cases of the COVID-19 compared to 24 hours ago as of 0:00 a.m. Wednesday local time, raising the total number of infections to 11,265.
The daily caseload rose above 40 in 49 days. Of the new cases, three were imported, lifting the combined figure to 1,221.
No more death was reported, leaving the death toll at 269. The total fatality rate stood at 2.39 percent.
A total of 20 more patients were discharged from quarantine after making full recovery, pulling up the combined number to 10,295. The total recovery rate was 91.4 percent.
Since Jan. 3, the country has tested more than 852,000 people, among whom 820,550 tested negative for the virus and 21,061 are being checked.
Surviving S.Korean wartime sex slavery victims fall to 17 as another dies
An elderly South Korean woman, who was forced into sexual slavery for Japanese military brothels during World War II, died early Tuesday, reducing the number of surviving victims in the country to 17.
Who she is was not made public. Before death, she had stayed at the House of Sharing, a civic shelter advocating the so-called comfort women victims, a euphemism for the sex slaves.
All the funeral service process will not be made known according to the woman’s will and the call from her bereaved families, Yonhap news agency reported citing the Korean Council for Justice Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, an advocacy group for the former sex slaves.
With the woman’s death, the number of surviving victims in South Korea declined to 17 out of the 240 officially registered with the South Korean government.
Historians said as many as 400,000 women from Asian countries, including the Korean Peninsula, were forced into sex enslavement for Japanese military brothels before and during the Pacific War.
S.Korea begins “no mask, no ride” policy on buses, taxies over COVID-19
South Korea began the so-called “no mask, no ride” policy on buses and taxes on Tuesday to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 while using public transportation.
Beginning Tuesday, taxi and bus drivers will be allowed to limit or refuse the ride of passengers who do not wear face masks. Drivers will be required to put on masks when passengers are on board.
As of Sunday, nine bus drivers and 12 tax drivers had been confirmed positive for the COVID-19.
By law, public transit drivers of bus, taxi and railway are banned from refusing passengers without proper reasons.
As the local law provides no legal grounds, the authorities cannot take administrative penalty on passengers without masks, so the authorities eased rules to allow drivers to refuse the passengers.
Meanwhile, subway passengers will be strongly advised to wear face masks while on board beginning on Tuesday.
The subway staff will encourage passengers to put on masks directly or via the subway announcement as it is not possible for check all the passengers.
From Wednesday, all passengers on domestic and international flights will be required to wear masks while aboard. Some of the domestic airlines have forced passengers to put on masks.
S.Korea reports 19 more COVID-19 cases, 11,225 in total
South Korea reported 19 more cases of the COVID-19 compared to 24 hours ago as of 0:00 a.m. Tuesday local time, raising the total number of infections to 11,225.
The daily caseload hovered below 20 for the second consecutive day. Of the new cases, three were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 1,218.
Two more deaths were confirmed, leaving the death toll at 269. The total fatality rate stood at 2.40 percent.
A total of 49 more patients were discharged from quarantine after making full recovery, pulling up the combined number to 10,275. The total recovery rate was 91.5 percent.
Since Jan. 3, the country has tested more than 839,000 people, among whom 806,206 tested negative for the virus and 22,044 are being checked.
S. Korea’s Moon urges use of full fiscal capability against ‘wartime-like’ economic crisis
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, on Monday called for “wartime-like” aggressive fiscal policy to cope with the economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, dismissing a burgeoning public concern about South Korea’s fiscal soundness.
“The bottom of the global economy is invisible.
“This is indeed an economic wartime situation,” he said during an annual national fiscal strategy meeting at Cheong Wa Dae.
He stressed the need to mobilise all of the government’s fiscal capabilities on par with a wartime fiscal operation.
President Moon Jae-in (C) speaks during the National Fiscal Strategy Meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on May 25, 2020. (Yonhap).
The president urged the speedy allocation of another batch of supplementary budgets, saying South Korea still had room for expansionary fiscal policy in comparison with other member states of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
“Our national debt ratio stays at the level of 41 percent,” taking into account the two previous extra budgets against the economic impact from the virus, he pointed out.
Moon underscored the importance of swiftly overcoming the serious crisis and seeking the recovery of fiscal health from a long-term perspective, which is a way to prevent the worsening of the debt proportion.
He was emphasising the importance of speedy and timely fiscal measures.
According to him, the government is preparing to submit a third extra budget bill.
He asked the National Assembly to approve it next month.
The ruling Democratic Party is reportedly pushing for a third extra budget bill worth over 40 trillion won.
The Moon administration has also announced plans to pour 250 trillion won into helping companies maintain jobs, insulate key industries, support small and medium-sized enterprises, the self-employed and other vulnerable people.
Separately, the government is handing out direct cash payments of up to 1 million won to all of the country’s households.
On the monetary policy side, South Korea’s central bank slashed the benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percentage point to a record low of 0.75 percent in March.
Many analysts predict the Bank of Korea will cut it once again this week.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
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