City of Seoul to halt mandatory COVID-19 tests

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March 19 (UPI) — The city of Seoul rescinded an administrative order that would have required a large segment of the foreign population to take a mandatory COVID-19 test, after politicians and public figures condemned the policy as discriminatory.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Friday that the order enacted Wednesday was being withdrawn in response to a request from South Korea’s COVID-19 Central Accident Investigation Headquarters, News 1 and Hankook Ilbo reported.

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The retraction does not mean all tests are being canceled, however. The order still applies to “high-risk workplaces,” according to the city.

South Korea defines high-risk workplaces according to how densely packed workers are in their environment, according to News 1.

Workers at sites that meet the definition of high risk must take a free COVID-19 test by March 31. Undocumented workers are not exempt from the requirement. Local authorities have said tests can be administered anonymously upon request.

Seoul’s administrative order drew condemnation earlier this week because of its singling out of foreigners engaged in certain types of occupations. Democratic Party lawmaker Rep. Lee Sang-min had called the policy “unfair and racist.” Other critics said the tests could lead to crowding.

Park Yoo-mi, a disease control official with City Hall, had said Wednesday that the order does not apply to all foreigners. Testing may have applied to a broader base of non-Korean nationals, however.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it raised concerns over the testing of foreigners, and an Australian Embassy source told CNN that the embassy is in “close contact with local and national government officials.”

Some diplomats in Seoul have voiced their opposition to the policy on Twitter.

British Ambassador to South Korea Simon Smith said the embassy told local officials the measures are not fair, proportionate or likely to be effective.

Embassies have urged its nationals to take the tests.