- Korea to make foreigners pay for Covid-19 treatment
Korea's new Covid-19 cases fell below 30 on Sunday for the first time in a week, as both local and imported infections showed a slight letdown after posting record-high numbers in the previous few days.
The nation reported 25 new virus cases, including 16 foreign infections, raising the cumulative caseload to 14,175 as of midnight Sunday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The number of people discharged from quarantine increased to 12,905, up 15 from a day earlier.
One more virus-linked death was reported, pushing up the death toll to 299. Korea, with a population of 50 million, has tested 1,526,974 people since Jan. 3.
Local virus cases dropped to nine. Seoul reported six cases, followed by two in Gyeonggi Province and one in Busan. On the other hand, imported infections remained in the double-digit figure for nearly a month. The government plans to revise related regulations so that foreign Covid-19 patients will have to pay all or part of their inpatient treatment expenses.
Some local media outlets took issue with snowballing financial burdens caused by treating an increasing number of foreign patients free of charge, quoting complaints by disgruntled Korean taxpayers. There were even talks that free treatments have sparked the influx of foreigners with Covid-19 symptoms.
According to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, there has been an average of 31.4 imported cases per day in the last two weeks (July 12-26). Compared to the previous two weeks (June 28-July 11), the average number of cases increased by 11.8.
For starters, the government plans to make foreigners who have violated self-quarantine measures pay the full cost of treatment and will consider expanding the application of the self-pay principle.
"We plan to amend the regulations so that foreigners, who tested positive for the virus during quarantine period after entry into Korea, will have to pay for their hospitalization treatment," Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-Hoo said on Sunday.
The current law requires the government to pay for all expenses related to inpatient treatment, diagnosis, and medical examinations for foreign patients with Covid-19 regardless of nationality.
"Support for hospitalization and treatment for foreigners was a quarantine measure to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in Korea," Park said. "However, in response to the increase in foreign patients infected, the burdens of local quarantine and medical systems have increased, and the voices calling for rectifying these situations have also grown louder."
The government will select a specific calculation method based on reciprocity, which means that the financial burden will depend on what measures the foreigner's homeland takes on Korean patients.
"Fifteen countries, including Australia, Brazil, and the U.K., provide the same treatment support between foreigners and their nationals, while 17 countries have some form of conditional support. Eight countries do not support foreigners at all," Park said. "However, the government plans to charge inbound Covid-19 travelers for hospitalization and medical costs."
Tests will remain free for people of all nationalities, he added.