Asia News Mar 04

Seoul pumps $1.9 billion into Wuhan virus battle

Flag carriers in trouble as more than 90 countries restrict or ban entry to travelers from South Korea

by Andrew Salmon
Seoul pumps $1.9 billion into Covid-19 battle
Troops disinfect a district in Seoul Wednesday. Photo: AFP

On Wednesday, when the number of Covid-19 patients reached 5,621 – a day-on-day rise of 435 cases – the country unveiled a supplementary budget of KRW11.7 trillion (US$9.8 billion).

Of the proposed budget, some KRW2.3 trillion ($1.9 billion) will go toward hospital beds, as well as medical equipment and facilities. The hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu, and its surrounding province, where approximately 90% of South Korea’s cases have been, has had to shift some patients to other parts of the country due to the strain on local hospitals and medical staff.

The special budget, which had been signaled last week, is subject to parliamentary approval, but the conservative opposition has hinted strongly that it will not oppose.

President Moon Jae-in, who said Tuesday that the country was “at war” with the virus, canceled a Middle Eastern tour on Wednesday in order to oversee the crisis.

Travel impact

As of Wednesday, some 94 countries and territories are banning or restricting entry to travelers from South Korea, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of those, some 33 have imposed outright bans on travelers who have visited South Korea within the prior two weeks.

The travel crisis is hammering the country’s two flag carriers.

Korean Air announced it was cutting flights to more than 80 destinations worldwide, according to Business Traveler magazine on Wednesday.

On Monday, Yonhap news agency reported that Asiana was extending unpaid leaves to employees while also halving executive salaries. In February, the airline’s 10,500 employees were each asked to take 10 days of unpaid leave and that practice will be repeated in March.  

There is widespread concern in the sector over whether the United States will ban entry to travelers from virus-besieged South Korea – it has recorded the second largest number of C0vid-19 cases in the world, after China – an issue US President Donald Trump has hinted at. Upwards of half the country’s air routes are to and from the United States, Forbes magazine reported.

The US now warns against non-essential travel to South Korea, and has warned its citizens not to visit Daegu.   

South Korean confirmed Covid-19 cases

January 20: First case

Tuesday, February 18: Woman connected to Shincheonji Church tests positive.

Wednesday, February 19: Total 51 cases.

Thursday, February 20: New cases: 53. Total 104

Friday, February 21: New cases: 100. Total 204

Saturday, February 22: New cases: 229. Total 433

Sunday, February 23: New cases: 169. Total 602

Monday, February 24:  New cases: 231. Total 833

Tuesday, February 25: New cases: 144. Total: 977

Wednesday, February 26: New cases: 284. Total: 1261

Thursday, February 27: New cases: 505. Total: 1,766

Friday, February 28: New cases: 571.Total: 2,337

Saturday, February 29:  New cases: 813. Total: 3,150

Sunday, March 1: New cases: 586. Total: 3,736

Monday, March 2: New cases: 549. Total: 4,335

Tuesday, March 3: New cases: 851. Total: 5,186

Wednesday, March 4: New cases: 435. Total: 5,621.

Data: Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Note: The KCDC releases figures at various times of the day. The above chart is collated from figures released at close of business, daily.