COVID-19 red alert spills over to South Korea’s port

South Korea’s Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, Moon Seong-hyeok speaking at a press conference. Credit: Yonhap

South Korea’s Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, Moon Seong-hyeok, is taking charge of an emergency task force to contain the influx of coronavirus (COVID-19) through the country’s ports, as the recent spike in infections have compelled the government go on red alert.

From fewer than 100 infections when COVID-19 began spreading beyond China in January 2020, South Korea’s infected cases jumped by double and triple digits within a few days from 18 February.

As of 25 February, there are nearly 1,000 COVID-19 infections in South Korea and 11 persons, all with pre-existing health conditions, have died.

Many of the infections have centred around the cities of Daegu and Cheongdo, causing other countries to advise against travelling to South Korea.

During a meeting on 24 February, Moon said, “Companies and other institutions should thoroughly sanitise their ships and various facilities and be fully committed to hygiene management.

“The maritime industry must prepare for a prolonged difficult situation and take steps to minimise the damage.”

As many countries have moved to bar access to Chinese visitors or people who visited China in the last 14 days, all 14 South Korea-China ferry services have also been suspended.

A spokesperson for South Korean liner operator HMM told SAS that precautions for onshore and seafaring employees are being taken according to international standards.

He said, “Basically, all employees are strongly recommended to wear a mask and use a hand sanitiser at any time during work. Face-to-face meetings are being restricted and replaced with other ways, such as teleconference or using messengers.”

Caused by a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but has spread across Asia and to Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Australia. Globally, nearly 80,000 infections and more than 2,400 deaths have been reported.