SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The South Korean capital on Friday withdrew its mandate to test all foreign workers in the city for coronavirus. An order that sparked huge numbers of testing centers և accusations of discrimination.
The city will still recommend testing for foreigners working in high-risk workplaces, such as bars and small factories, said Lee Ha-Seon, a Seoul government official.
Seoul’s move came shortly after the Ministry of Health asked the city to repeal the order to replace it with measures that “do not discriminate between Korean” foreign nationals “and do not violate human rights.”
The National Human Rights Commission also said it was reviewing Seoul’s test mandate and similar measures taken in the neighboring state, receiving complaints that they were discriminatory. Gyeonggi government spokesman Li Yong-ho said he was not going to withdraw the test of foreigners, which will last until Monday.
“The thing is, we are offering tests now, we are not mandating them anymore,” said Lee, a Seoul official, who assured that no foreign workers would be fined for failing tests. The administrative order demanded a fine of up to 2 million won ($ 1,770).
The lone lines revolved around Seoul’s designated test stations after the city began required tests on Wednesday for all foreign nationals working in the city, regardless of their visa status or recent travel history.
As of the end of 2020, some 240,000 foreigners were registered in Seoul, but city officials did not estimate how many were on probation.
On Thursday, British Ambassador Simon Smith said his embassy had informed the South Korean national government that the tests were “unfair, disproportionate and likely to be effective”. He further advised British citizens in the region to experiment to avoid fines.
Harjong Gyeong Province says it has detected 203 cases of coronavirus infection among some 234,500 foreigners who have been screened for 10 days through Wednesday.
The test campaigns came in response to outbreaks of low-skilled foreign workers in Gyeonggi factories, who often face high working and living conditions that put them at greater risk.
But critics, including health professionals, have questioned why the authorities are ordering tests instead of mandatory nationality, rather than specifically targeting vulnerable people.