The pandemic has made us all face decisions we’ve never had to make. For me, one of them was to decide if it was safe enough to visit my parents here or not see them at all this year. But as the weeks extended to months, I decided it was a risk worth taking.
Many countries have strict restrictions on American visitors, with many requiring them to spend two weeks in quarantine. South Korea was no exception: I was told I would be required to download an app at the airport and self-quarantine for two weeks on arrival.
But that was just the beginning. It wasn’t until I arrived that I realized the extent of the government’s program to contain the virus.
At Kennedy Airport’s international terminal in New York, normally filled with lines of people heading to destinations across the world, all was silent. Check-in counters were empty and the floors looked as though they had been polished minutes ago.
The check-in assistant was friendly and the process was seamless until she handed me a piece of paper I needed to sign acknowledging that I would in quarantine for 14 days at a government facility on arrival. I explained to the airline agent that I had planned on staying with my parents.
The agent informed me that without proof my parents live in Seoul, I would be shuttled straight to the government facility from the airport in Korea. I called my parents in a panic, though it was 2 a.m. there. Luckily they had the required forms lying around from a few years back. They sent me a screenshot of the document, which I hoped would be enough when I landed.
Korean Air, like many other U.S. airlines, had spaced out seats throughout the plane to adhere to social distancing protocols. While on the plane, I was handed four pages of forms to fill out, which included three different travel declaration forms and an arrival card, rather than the usual single form.
By the time I landed at Incheon Airport, everything felt sterile. Video walls once lined with “Welcome to Korea” advertisements were replaced by videos of dancing sharks advising people how to keep clean and safe during the pandemic. It appeared I had traveled on the only plane that had arrived at the terminal.
The first desk we passed while going through the terminal, which we would normally bypass, had a mounted heat sensor camera. I was stopped and asked a few questions and had my temperature checked.
I gave my U.S. cellphone number, but was told I needed to provide a Korean one. I crossed off mine and replaced it with my mom’s cell number. They were meticulous in examining the details I had jotted down on all my forms.
At the next checkpoint, I was told to download the Korean government’s Covid-19 app, titled “Self-Quarantine Safety Protection.” It had a tracking device and I would need to record my temperature and any symptoms twice daily. The assistant hovered over me and watched me as I installed the app on my iPhone just to make sure I had enabled alerts and that the app was running at all times.
At the third checkpoint, I handed over my passport and travel documents before another clerk confirmed my app was indeed downloaded properly. They then called the Korean number I had jotted down earlier to confirm it worked.
I was then handed another three pages of forms to fill out, before staffers at two further checkpoints verified the information. This is how it’s determined whether travelers need to quarantine. Failure to comply could result in up to a year in prison or up to 10 million won (nearly $9,000) in fines, per the Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Source : NBC News