Asia

Seoul officials orders COVID tests for all foreign workers

People wait in line for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a testing site which is temporarily set up at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea

South Korea’s capital has ordered coronavirus tests for all foreign workers as the country expands mass testing targeting expatriates in a campaign that has triggered complaints of discrimination.

Seoul officials said Wednesday the testing requirement covers all foreign nationals employed in the city, regardless of their visa status, as well as their employers. They could face fines of up to 2 million won ($1,768) if they fail to get tested until the end of March.

Seoul had around 240,000 registered foreigners at the end of 2020, but city officials didn’t have an immediate estimate on how many of them would be covered by tests.

The decision comes after similar measures in nearby Gyeonggi province, which is also forcing employers to require tests for new foreign jobseekers and hire only those who test negative.

Critics have questioned why South Korean authorities are mandating broad tests based on nationality instead of specifically targeting people with vulnerable working conditions.

The testing campaign targeting foreigners came in response to outbreaks among low-skilled foreign workers employed at Gyeonggi factories, who often face hash working and living conditions that expose them to higher infection risks.

Thousands of foreigners waited in hours-long lines at designated testing stations in Gyeonggi over the weekend.

The province said it has found 149 positive cases among some 160,000 foreigners tested during the week through Monday.


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