Flight information boards at Incheon Airport on Thursday morning (Yonhap)
Residents in Korea and South Korean nationals abroad are scrambling to reschedule their Christmas travel plans after the government announced on Wednesday evening that a mandatory 10-day quarantine is back for all international arrivals starting Friday.
Since early May, those fully vaccinated in Korea had been able to bypass quarantine when they returned. But after the first cases of the omicron variant were found the country, the government introduced stricter COVID-19 measures. The new measure will take effect for two weeks and apply to all travelers regardless of their vaccination status.
Park Ji-kyong, a 29-year-old who works at a logistics company based in Vietnam, said she feels “lucky” to have arrived at Incheon Airport in the early hours of Saturday, just days before the return of post-travel quarantine.
“My friends who knew that I’m already in Korea sent me a screenshot of the news on KakaoTalk. I felt lucky.”
It is her first visit to her home country in nearly two years.
“But I also feel thrown off by a sudden shift in the government’s approach. I have to go back to Vietnam and I’m worried Vietnam might extend their quarantine period in response.”
Choi Ji-won, a reporter at The Korea Herald, who is currently in Los Angeles to cover BTS’ Permission to Dance On Stage tour, said many year-end events in the entertainment industry will be affected by the new variant.
“Many K-pop-related events take place around this time of the year. It is disappointing that I won’t be able to report on these events in person.
“Entertainment industry officials are also discussing the availability of artists and employees who are currently visiting other countries for their year-end activities.”
BTS, for instance, will not be able to attend the 2021 Mnet Asian Music Awards scheduled for next week as the band is currently in the US, and are set to perform at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour on Friday.
Many others who have planned on traveling abroad have concerns.
“We planned to visit the Netherlands for research and business. We did not book the flight yet in anticipation of unexpected Covid-19 policy changes. The 10-day quarantine rule strikes me as reasonable. As my wife and I are both non-Koreans, my main concern is testing positive and being stranded abroad,” said Javier Cha, associate professor at Seoul National University in Seoul.
Josh Merfeld, assistant professor at the KDI School of Public Policy and Management said he will go ahead with his planned trip later this month. Even if it means he has to self-isolate for 10 days upon return here.
“My brother is getting married this month and my parents haven’t seen their granddaughter in a year and a half, so we are forging ahead.”
But for people like Maria Lopez Anguita, a 37-year-old teacher in Spain planning to come to Korea later this month, quarantine is not a viable option as she has only two weeks for Christmas holidays.
“I feel devastated. This would have been my first time in Korea in two years. My husband is Korean and our anniversary is on Dec. 28th. I was going to spend two weeks with my husband, but now I‘m afraid I have to cancel everything.
She has booked flights and an Airbnb. The South Korean government does not allow those on short-term visas to quarantine at an Airbnb.
“I feel very sad, disappointed, and not knowing what to do, because the Korean government changes its rules from one day to the next. I am very tired of this situation.”