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Summary

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is the government agency responsible for responding to health crises in South Korea.  The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) was established by the relevant Minister who delegated certain powers to the KCDC to address infectious disease emergencies.

The aims of the Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act include preventing the occurrence and prevalence of infectious diseases and prescribing the necessary measures for their prevention and control.  The Quarantine Act provides measures for preventing infectious diseases from spreading inside South Korea and outside its borders.

South Korea has an infectious disease surveillance system.  When a person is infected with a specified infectious disease, the person may be treated and hospitalized in designated hospitals.

I.  Structure of the Public Health Crisis Management System

The Minister of Health and Welfare is responsible for the administration of affairs related to health, sanitation, and the prevention of epidemics, among other things.[1]  The Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act was enacted in 2009 “to contribute to the improvement and maintenance of citizens’ health by preventing the occurrence and prevalence of infectious diseases hazardous to citizens’ health, and prescribing necessary matters for the prevention and control thereof.”[2]  The Act confers upon the Minister of Health and Welfare various powers and obligations.  The authority of the Minister of Health and Welfare stipulated under the Act may be partially delegated to the Director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).[3]

The Minister of Health and Welfare formulates and implements a “master plan” for the prevention and control of infectious diseases every five years.  The master plan must include the following:

  1. Basic objectives of and direction-setting for executing the prevention and control of infectious diseases;
  2. Project plans for the prevention and control of major infectious diseases, and methods of executing them;
  3. Schemes to train experts and enhance emergency preparedness capability for infectious diseases;
  4. Schemes to manage statistics and information on infectious diseases . . . [.][4]

An Infectious Disease Control Committee was established under the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) to deliberate on major policies concerning the prevention and control of infectious diseases, including the formulation of a master plan and crisis control measures.[5]  The Vice Minister of Health and Welfare chairs the Committee.[6]  The Minister of Health and Welfare formulates and implements crisis control measures against infectious diseases following Committee deliberations on these matters.[7]  The crisis control measures include the following:

1. A response system and roles of each agency at emergency scenes; 

2. A determination and decision-making system of emergencies;

3. Schemes of stockpiling and supplying medical supplies . . . ;

4. Education and training schemes, such as citizens’ codes of conduct in each case of emergency . . . [.][8]

The Minister of Health and Welfare may establish organizations consisting of private professionals to support infectious disease control projects, the implementation of master plans and implementation plans, and international cooperation in health affairs.[9]  The KCDC is one such organization,[10] and contains the following divisions: Infectious Disease Control, Quarantine Support, Infectious Disease Surveillance, Epidemic Intelligence Service, Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response, and Public Health Crisis Response.[11]  The Division of Public Health Crisis Response “is in charge of the planning and running of the national emerging disease response, response and management of avian influenza human infection and pandemic influenza, education and training of public health officials, research and development of public health crisis, and international cooperation.”[12]  The Management Team for Public Health Crisis Response “supports effective and professional strategy formulation and execution of projects for the crisis caused by emerging infectious diseases of the division.”[13]

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II.  Surveillance

The Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act classifies infectious diseases in groups, depending on the speed of transmission or degree of danger and harm:

  • Group 1: infectious diseases spread via drinking water or food, with a high risk of mass outbreak, requiring immediate control measures upon their outbreak or prevalence.  These diseases include cholera, typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, bacterial dysentery, colon bacillus infection with enterorrhagia and viral hepatitis A.
  • Group 2: infectious diseases that can be prevented and controlled by vaccinations, subject to national vaccination programs.  These diseases include diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, viral hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, varicella, and haemophilus influenza type B.
  • Group 3: infectious diseases requiring continuous surveillance and the establishment of control measures against their outbreak.  These diseases include malaria, tuberculosis, Hansen’s disease, scarlet fever, meningococcal meningitis, legionellosis, vibrio vulnificus sepsis, epidemic typhus, murine typhus, scrub typhus, leptospirosis, brucellosis, anthrax, rabies, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, influenza, AIDS, syphilis and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
  • Group 4: infectious diseases, as designated by Ordinance of the MOHW, that have newly broken out or are likely to break out in Korea, or that are epidemics overseas with a risk of transmission to Korea.
  • Group 5: infectious diseases that are spread by parasite infection and are designated by Ordinance of the MOHW as requiring surveillance through regular investigations.
  • Designated infectious diseases: infectious diseases designated by the Minister of Health and Welfare, other than infectious diseases in Groups 1–5, requiring surveillance to investigate whether they are epidemic.
  • Infectious diseases under surveillance of the World Health Organization (WHO): infectious diseases being monitored to prepare for international public health emergencies, as announced by the MOHW.
  • Infectious diseases spread through bioterrorism: infectious diseases publicly announced by the MOHW as being among those spread by pathogens through deliberate use or for terrorism.
  • Sexually transmitted infectious diseases: infectious diseases announced by the Minister of Health and Welfare as being transmitted by sexual contact.
  • Zoonoses: infectious diseases spread by pathogens transmittable from animals to humans and vice versa, announced as requiring surveillance by the MOHW.
  • Nosocomial infectious diseases: infectious diseases contracted by people involved in medical activities or undergoing medical procedures, announced as requiring surveillance by the MOHW.[14]

No specific information was located concerning the classification of Ebola in one of the abovementioned infectious disease groups, but it appears that Ebola could be included under “Infectious diseases under surveillance of the WHO” or several other categories.

Under the Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act, a medical doctor must report the following infectious disease situations to the head of the medical institution to which he/she belongs or to a competent public health clinic if he/she does not belong to a medical institution:

  • A doctor diagnoses a patient as being infected with a disease belonging to any of the groups listed above, or examines the corpse of such a patient.
  • A patient infected with a disease from Groups 1–4 dies.[15]

The medical institution that receives such a report from a doctor must forward it to the competent public health clinic.[16]

The Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act obligates anyone who becomes aware of a person that he/she suspects is infected with or has died from a disease belonging to any of the groups listed above to inform the head of a competent public health clinic.[17]  A definite or suspected case of a Group 1 infectious disease, or a death resulting from a Group 1 disease, obligates the following people either to pursue a medical examination or diagnosis, or to make a report to the public health clinic in their jurisdiction:

  • In the case of a family, the head of the household or, in the absence of the head of the household, another member of the household.
  • In the case of a school, hospital, government office, company, place of entertainment or worship, vessel, place of business, restaurant, inn, or other place of gathering, the head, manager, proprietor, or representative of the establishment.[18]

Violation of the Act’s provisions regarding required medical examinations or reports is punishable by a fine not to exceed ₩2 million (approximately US$1,890).[19]

The head of a public health clinic on receipt of an infectious disease notification must report the details “to the Governor of the competent Special Self-Governing Province or the head of the competent Si/Gun/Gu who shall, in turn, report them to the Minister of Health and Welfare and the competent Mayor/Do Governor.”[20]  The KCDC receives all such information and creates relevant statistics.[21]

The KCDC conducts an epidemiological investigation when it deems that an infectious disease has broken out and “is likely to prevail subsequently.”[22]

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III.  Powers of Public Health Authorities

A local government may designate a medical institution as an infectious disease control institution.  The MOHW Ordinance requires the head of a designated medical institution to establish necessary facilities for preventing infectious diseases and for examining and treating infected patients.[23]  The expenses incurred for the establishment of such facilities are subsidized by the local government.[24]  In the case of mass infections or difficulty in accommodating all infected patients, the Minister of Health and Welfare and heads of local governments can designate other medical institutions as infectious disease control institutions for a certain period, as well as establish and operate isolation wards, sanatoriums, and clinics.[25]

In August 2014, “the Health Ministry designated a total of 17 hospitals with quarantine units as official facilities to treat patients should Ebola occur in South Korea.”[26]  However, one expert on infectious disease epidemiology has stated that

[a]lthough there are 17 government-designated hospitals with quarantine units, these units were constructed for airborne infectious diseases like influenza. As such, currently no hospitals in South Korea are designed to provide one-stop testing and treatment for diseases like Ebola that are transmitted through body fluids.[27]

A person who has contracted a disease specified by the Minister of Health and Welfare as infectious must be hospitalized at the designated infectious disease control institution.  If such an institution is full, the Minister of Health and Welfare or the head of the local government may permit the patient to be hospitalized at another medical institution.[28]  The Minister of Health and Welfare or the head of the local government must provide notice to the person to be hospitalized.[29]  Refusing hospital treatment is punishable by a fine not to exceed ₩3 million (approximately US$2,790).[30]  The Minister of Health and Welfare or the head of the local government may require the relevant public official to conduct an investigation or medical diagnosis by entering the residence, means of transportation (such as a ship, aircraft, or train), or any other place where there are persons infected with a disease from Group 1 or a specified infectious disease from other groups.  When a medical diagnosis identifies an infected person, the relevant public official may escort the patient to undergo required medical treatment or hospitalization.[31] 

The head of the local government may require any of the following persons to undergo a medical examination or receive a vaccination necessary for the prevention of an infectious disease:

  1. Family members of a patient, etc. infected by an infectious disease, or his/her cohabitants;
  2. A person suspected of being infected by an infectious disease, who lives in or frequents an area where an infectious disease has occurred;
  3. A person suspected of being infected by an infectious disease, as he/she has come into contact with a patient, etc. infected by an infectious disease.[32]

In order to prevent the further spread of an infectious disease once it has broken out, the head of the local government is obligated to take all or some of the following measures:

1. To isolate traffic to places where patients, etc. infected by an infectious disease exist or to the places deemed to have been infected by the pathogen of an infectious disease for a certain period;

2. To keep persons suspected of being infected by the pathogen of an infectious disease hospitalized or in quarantine at an appropriate place for a certain period;

3. To prohibit the use, receipt, transfer, abandonment, or washing of articles infected or suspected of being infected by the pathogen of an infectious disease, or to incinerate or destroy such articles;

4. To order the disinfection of or other necessary measures for places infected by the pathogen of an infectious disease;

5. To prohibit laundry at a specified place, or to order the disposal of waste at a specified place.[33]

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IV.  Quarantine Act

Means of transport (ships, aircraft, trains, or automobiles), people, or cargo entering or departing from the Republic of Korea must undergo quarantine inspections.[34]  No one besides public officials in charge of quarantine is permitted to embark or board a means of transport subject to a quarantine inspection before a quarantine certificate has been issued.[35] 

Under the Quarantine Act, diseases subject to quarantine are cholera, pest and yellow fever, SARS, avian influenza, pandemic influenza, and other infectious diseases that break out abroad and are likely to spread within the Republic of Korea, or break out within the Republic of Korea and are likely to spread abroad, and that the Minister of Health and Welfare designates.[36]

The director of the quarantine station conducts quarantine inspections related to any of the following:

  1. Progress and current status of health and sanitary conditions of the means of transport;
  2. Matters concerning the control and management of quarantinable communicable diseases for passengers, crew members and . . . [pedestrians];
  3. The storage status of food and the status of the cargo loaded in the means of transport; [and]
  4. Whether vehicles for communicable diseases inhabit [sic] and the state of their breeding.[37]

The director of the quarantine station can take all or some of the following measures:

  1. Isolate a patient infected with a quarantinable communicable disease or a patient suspected of being infected with a quarantinable communicable disease . . . ;
  2. Supervising or isolating a person who has had contact with patients infected with a quarantinable communicable disease, etc. or who is exposed to the pathogen of a quarantinable communicable disease without any symptom . . . but to whom the quarantinable communicable disease is suspected to break out . . . ;
  3. Disinfecting, destructing or prohibiting the movement of cargo contaminated with or suspected of being contaminated with the pathogen of a quarantinable communicable disease;
  4. Disinfecting any place contaminated or suspected of being contaminated with the pathogen of a quarantinable communicable disease, and prohibiting or restricting the use of such place;
  5. Dissecting any corpse . . . which is contaminated or suspected of being contaminated with a quarantinable communicable disease in order to inspect the corpse;
  6. Ordering the head of a means of transport or the owner or manager of cargo to disinfect the means of transport or the cargo, and eradicating the pathogen of a communicable disease;
  7. Medically examining or checking persons, deemed necessary to be confirmed whether they are infected with a quarantinable communicable disease; [and]
  8. Vaccinating persons who need the prevention of [sic] a quarantinable communicable disease.[38]

The director of the quarantine station may ask the head of the local government to monitor the health status of a person suspected of being infected once that person enters his jurisdiction.[39]  If a person is confirmed as being infected with a disease subject to quarantine, the head of the local government must promptly take necessary measures, such as isolation, and immediately notify the director of the relevant quarantine station of the confirmed diagnosis and measures taken.[40]

The Minister of Health and Welfare may request the Minister of Justice to prohibit foreigners infected with a quarantinable communicable disease who are likely to pose a substantial risk to public health from entering or leaving Korea, and to prohibit infected Korean nationals from leaving Korea.[41]

The director of the quarantine station may take any of the following measures with regard to a person who intends to enter or leave Korea when a quarantinable communicable disease is likely to spread:

1. To request information on a travel region and time;

2. To request information on the health status related to a quarantinable communicable disease;

3. To request the documents certifying the vaccination; and

4. To examine or check in order to check [sic] whether he/she is infected with a quarantinable communicable disease.[42]

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V.  Recent Developments

After the WHO issued its Statement on the First Meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee on the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa on August 8, 2014,[43] the Vice Minister of Health and Welfare, Jang Ok-ju, held an emergency meeting with ten relevant ministries and agencies and discussed the WHO’s announcement and Ebola prevention and control measures.  After the meeting, a special travel advisory was issued, which urged Koreans residing in these Ebola-affected countries to return to Korea and Koreans elsewhere to cancel or postpone nonessential trips to Ebola-affected countries.  In addition, the government of South Korea announced that inbound travelers from Nigeria and from the three Ebola-affected countries would be quarantined, undergo thermal screening at the time of entry, and be closely monitored over a certain period of time (for up to twenty-one days) for any Ebola infection.  Inbound travelers on direct or transit flights from the four Ebola-affected countries would be quarantined at deplaning gates instead of at general quarantine zones.  The government would identify people entering the country after traveling from or through the Ebola-affected countries in advance, through cooperation with the airlines, immigration offices, and embassies in those four Ebola-affected countries, and through voluntary reporting by travelers.  Transit passengers from the four Ebola-affected countries would also go through the quarantine process when they enter Korea.  Passengers on direct flights from Africa or on flights through a third country from Africa would also undergo enhanced screening.[44]

Prepared by Sayura Umeda
Foreign Law Specialist*
February 2015


* At present there are no Law Library of Congress research staff members versed in Korean.  This report has been prepared by the author’s reliance on practiced legal research methods and on the basis of relevant legal resources, chiefly in English, currently available in the Law Library and online.

[1] Government Organization Act, Act No. 1, July 17, 1948, amended by Act No. 11690, Mar. 23, 2013, art. 38, English translation available on Korea Legislation Research Institute’s (KLRI) online database, at http://elaw.klri.re. kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=27695&lang=ENG.

[2] Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, Act No. 9847, Dec. 29, 2009, amended by Act No. 11645, Mar. 22, 2013, art. 1, English translation available at http://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=29938&lang=ENG.

[3] Id. art. 76(1).

[4] Id. art. 7(1).  A copy of the master plan was not located.

[5] Id. art. 9(1) & (2).

[6] Id. art. 10(2).

[7] Id. art. 34(1).

[8] Id. art. 34(2).  A copy of the crisis control measures was not located.

[9] Id. art. 8(1).

[10] See Center for Infectious Disease Control, KCDC, http://www.cdc.go.kr/CDC/eng/contents/CdcEngContentView. jsp?cid=17908&menuIds=HOME002-MNU0575-MNU0633 (last visited Oct. 29, 2014).

[11] Id.

[12] Hye-Young Lee et al., Public Health Crisis Preparedness and Response in Korea, 4(5) Osong Pub. Health Res. Persp. § 1, 278–84 (Oct. 2013), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC3845460/.

[13] Id. § 4.3.

[14] Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act art. 2.

[15] Id. art. 11(1).

[16] Id. art. 11(2).

[17] Id. art. 12(2).

[18] Id. art. 12(1).

[19] Id. art. 81.

[20] Id. art. 13(1).

[21] Byungguk Yang, PowerPoint Presentation, Infectious Disease Surveillance System in Korea, Thirty-first Asia-Pacific Advanced Network Meeting, slides 7–15 (Feb. 2011), http://www.apan.net/meetings/ HongKong2011/ Session/Slides/Medical/6-6.pdf.

[22] Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act art. 18.

[23] An English translation of the Ordinance is not available.

[24] Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act art. 36(1) & (2).

[25] Id. art. 37(1).

[26] South Korea Ill-Prepared for Possible Ebola Outbreak, Say Health Experts, Straits Times (Oct. 20, 2014), http://www.straitstimes.com/news/asia/east-asia/story/south-korea-ill-prepared-possible-ebola-outbreak-say-health-experts-201410.

[27] Moran Ki, What Do We Really Fear?  The Epidemiological Characteristics of Ebola and Our Preparedness, 36 Epidemiology & Health 1, 4 (Aug. 18, 2014), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC4153011/pdf/epih-36-e2014014.pdf.

[28] Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Act art. 41(1) & (2).

[29] Id. art. 43.

[30] Id. art. 80(2).

[31] Id. art. 42.

[32] Id. art. 46.

[33] Id. art. 47.

[34] Kŏmyŏkpŏp [Quarantine Act], Act No. 1273, Feb. 9, 1963, amended by Act No. 11972, July 30, 2013, art. 6, English translation available at http://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=29132 &lang=ENG.

[35] Id. art. 13(1).

[36] Id. art. 2.

[37] Id. art. 12(1).

[38] Id. art. 15(1).

[39] Id. art. 17(1).

[40] Id. art. 17(2).

[41] Id. art. 24.

[42] Id. art. 26.

[43] Press Release, WHO, Statement on the First Meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee on the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (Aug. 8, 2014), http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/ 2014/ebola-20140808/en/.

[44] Government Steps Up Measures to Prevent Ebola from Entering Korea, MOHW (Sept. 1, 2014), http://english. mw.go.kr/front_eng/al/sal0101vw.jsp?PAR_MENU_ID=1002&MENU_ID=100201&page=1&CONT_SEQ =304721.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015