The ruling, which went into effect Wednesday, forced all foreign workers in the capital to undergo coronavirus testing or fines of up to 2 million Korean won ($ 1,775).
In a press release from the city government on Friday, Seoul City officials said they would now only recommend foreign workers employed in high-risk companies with dense, unventilated work environments to be tested before May 31. March. The city also recommended that South Korean citizens working in the same companies be put to the test, the version added.
The policy has already been established in the neighboring province of Gyeonggi, as well as in several other cities and provinces. It is unclear whether other provinces will follow in Seoul’s footsteps.
The policy had been labeled by many as xenophobic and discriminatory, and ruling party lawmaker Lee Sang-min described it as an “unfair racist action against foreigners” and warned it would translate into “international shame”.
Seoul City officials had previously denied the policy was discriminatory, pointing to statistics showing that the proportion of foreign residents among confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the capital had risen from 2.2% last year to 6 , 3% this month. “I call for people’s participation and think of this as a measure to protect the safety of the individual rather than discrimination,” Seoul City official Song Eun-cheol said last Friday.
The ruling had threatened to create a diplomatic incident, but with a growing list of nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, expressing their opposition.
The British ambassador to South Korea, Simon Smith, posted a video on Twitter on Thursday in which he said: “We believe that these measures are not fair, are not proportionate and are not likely to be effective.” Smith said he had also raised the issue with South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission.
Canadian Ambassador Micheal Danagher retweeted the message, saying he and other ambassadors were making similar representations. Ambassadors ’rebukes to the government of their host nation are rare, although embassies failed to advise their citizens not to follow government rules.
The U.S. embassy in Seoul also tweeted on Friday: “We have raised our concerns with high-level Korean authorities and strongly advocate for fair and equitable treatment of all U.S. citizens in our shared efforts to stop the pandemic “.
Both health officials in the city of Seoul and those in South Korea had previously avoided direct questions about the epidemiological reasons for testing foreigners, but not their Korean counterparts.
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