Korea says Aust travel ban ‘regrettable’


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South Korea says a decision to ban the entry of its citizens to Australia is regrettable.

On Thursday, the Morrison government announced Koreans would be banned from entering Australia to minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the Korean embassy told AAP on Friday the nation was properly dealing with its outbreak, which was limited to a “specific region and group”.

“The increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is because Korea conducts pre-emptive examinations with its high-level medical system and transparently discloses the results,” the embassy official said.

“As it is expected that the spread of COVID-19 in Korea will begin to slow down soon, Korea regrets the Australian government’s announcement of an entry ban from Korea.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it would be “great” if the decision could be reversed in coming weeks, but Australia had to act in its national interest.

“I think we all understand that these are not usual times and we regret having to do that as well,” he said.

“We would prefer not to be having any of the travel bans.

(But) I think there is an understanding that each country has to make its own decisions in its own national interest.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was sure Australia’s close relationship with South Korea meant the two countries would be able to work through the issue.

“We are very grateful for the transparency of the government of the Republic of Korea in the approach that they have taken to dealing with their outbreak,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“It is obviously challenging for them as it is for us but in protecting the Australian people we have had to take certain steps.”

At the same time as it imposed the travel ban on Korea, the government announced those coming from Italy would face enhanced screening including health checks.

The prime minister said it was a capacity issue in terms of Border Force staff needed to carry out the extra screening, and Australia had explained as much to Korean officials.

Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, 4800 Italian nationals and 16,440 Koreans arrived in Australia, parliament was told this week.

Australian Border Force boss Michael Outram said his officers were coping well with the volume of travellers requiring checks at the moment.

“We actually are at the same time – ironically – freeing up some capacity, because there’s a lot less people travelling,” he told ABC Radio National.

“So at the moment, we’re managing pretty well.”


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