(June 4, 2020) South Korea was one of the first countries outside of China to identify persons who had been infected with COVID-19. By the beginning of March 2020, the epidemics in South Korea, Iran, Italy, and Japan were the World Health Organization’s greatest concern. To enhance the government’s response to the coronavirus disease, the South Korean Parliament passed a set of bills amending three separate acts, which the President promulgated on March 4, 2020. The enforcement dates of the amended provisions vary, with some being effective on the date of promulgation.
Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act
The Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act (Act No. 9847, Dec. 29, 2009) was amended by Act No. 17067 to create punishments for people who do not follow measures to prevent or contain infectious diseases. Under the amended act, a suspected patient who refuses to take a test ordered by health authorities is punishable by a fine up to a 3 million won (about US$2,430). (Amended arts. 13, para. 2; 80, subpara. 2-2.) A person who violates a quarantine order imposed as a preventive or containment measure is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year or a fine up to 10 million won (about US$8,090). (Amended arts. 47, subpara. 3; 49, para. 1, subpara 14; 79-3.) These provisions took effect on April 5, 2020. The first person to be imprisoned under the amended act for violating quarantine was sentenced to four months in prison on May 26, 2020.
In response to the global shortage of health care supplies, the amended act also enables the minister of health and welfare to ban exports of drugs and other goods for medical use, such as face masks and hand sanitizers, when supply shortages are expected. (New art. 40-3.) This provision became effective upon promulgation. The ministry banned exports of protective masks from March 6, 2020. After the domestic supply stabilized, the government started loosening the ban. In early May 2020, the government decided to provide a total of 1 million face masks to Korean War veterans in 22 countries, including 500,000 face masks to Korean War veterans in the United States.
The South Korean Embassy in the U.S. said that a South Korean Air Force aircraft carrying the masks arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 12, 2020.
Under the Quarantine Act (Act No. 9846, Dec. 29, 2009), the minister of health and welfare may request that the minister of justice prohibit or suspend the entrance into South Korea of persons who are infected or suspected of being infected with certain diseases. Seven infectious diseases, such as cholera and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are listed in the Quarantine Act. In addition, the minister of health and welfare can add other infectious diseases to the list. (Art. 2.) The amending act (Act No. 17068) also provides that persons who come from or through regions affected by or at risk of an epidemic are subject to such a request. South Korean nationals are excluded. (New art. 24.) The government banned foreign nationals from Hubei Province, China, from entering South Korea on March 19, 2020.
Medical Service Act
The Medical Service Act (Act No. 8366, Apr. 11, 2007) was amended by Act No. 17069, which obligated the minister of health and welfare to establish and operate a monitoring system for surveillance of the occurrence and causes of infections originating in health care institutions. The head of a medical institution and medical personnel who have learned of the occurrence of a certain infection within the institution may voluntarily report this to the minister of health and welfare. A person who was infected in a medical institution may also voluntarily report this to the minister. The head of the medical institution must not take adverse action against a person who files the voluntary report. (New art. 47.) This provision will take effect on September 5, 2020.