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Seoul orders all foreign workers to take COVID-19 tests

 Seoul City has issued an administrative order for all foreign workers in the capital to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing, similar to a measure announced last week by the Gyeonggi provincial government.

The city said, Tuesday, all foreign workers and their employers will have to get tested for the coronavirus from Wednesday to March 31.Testing and receiving treatment are free of charge, and the city government plans to increase capacity at makeshift testing sites to 3,600 tests per day. Employers may face fines if they or their workers do not abide by the order.

"Whether documented or undocumented, we plan to make the order for all foreign employees," Park Yoo-mi, the disease control official of the city government, said during a regular virus response briefing.

The decision, however, has caused confusion among foreign workers, as they received text messages that the city "advises" them to get tested.

As to whether the testing is mandatory or a recommendation, and whether it was a mistake in translation, the city government was unavailable for comment.

It also did not say how many people will be subject to the order. In Gyeonggi Province, around 85,000 foreign workers are supposed to receive the test.

The city government will also strengthen monitoring of arrivals from abroad who are under mandatory 14-day self-isolation.Ansan City in the province has applied the system since Feb. 11, and the measure is being expanded to the whole province.

In response to the question of whether such pre-emptive tests before employment constitute discrimination against foreign workers, Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official of the central government, said, "Recently, groups of foreign workers have contracted the virus in Gyeonggi Province, so we believe that conducting PCR tests before hiring foreigners can ensure safety (of both the workers and locals in the region)."

Yoon also mentioned earlier orders of tests for the members of certain churches (such as Sarang Jeil Church) where cluster infections had taken place, claiming that mandatory testing for all foreigners, regardless of whether their workplace had a cluster infection, is not a discriminatory measure.

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