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South Korean Consul General Chun Young Wook talking to Gulf New Image Credit: Angel Tesorero, Gulf News

Dubai: South Korea’s top envoy has called on his compatriots in the UAE to remain calm and not to panic as the situation back home is under control, despite their government’s recent declaration of ‘war’ against the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19) contagion.

After China, South Korea is ranked with the second highest number of COVID-19 in the world. It has a total of 6,284 confirmed cases as of Friday while 42 Koreans - mostly patients with underlying illnesses - have died from the respiratory virus that emerged in Wuhan late last year, according to the Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Speaking exclusively to Gulf News, South Korean Consul General Chun Young Wook said: “My overall assessment is – yes, we have to be alert – but there is no pandemic yet and it’s not chaotic back home.”

Korean envoy tells UAE expats not to panic over coronavirus Angel Tesorero, Staff Reporter

“It would be wise for everyone, including Koreans abroad, to remain calm,” he underlined.

Chun’s statement came on the heels of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s announcement the country is “waging a war on the virus” and the government would pump US$25 billion (Dh92B) to fund measures to contain it. South Korea has also shifted to a “24-hour emergency situation room system” to better cope with quarantine and economy-related measures.

Earlier, Gulf News has reported Korean expats in the UAE are worried about their families back home and many are postponing their overseas travel plans, including a visit for the cherry blossoms spring festival because of COVID-19 scare.

Amidst reports fear has gripped South Koreans over the spread of coronavirus, Chun stressed “the real situation on the ground is far from this.”

“Sometimes the media are preoccupied only with reporting the number of affected persons and they miss the truth behind the numbers – which is the complete transparency by the Korean government in providing data,” he explained.

“Unlike other countries, we do not hide nor conceal any information. We reveal everything,” Chun underscored.

He also noted South Korea has thrown a wide net to test a large number of persons suspected of contracting the virus. A total of 164,740 Koreans have been tested and 136,624 were found negative of COVID-19.

Chun said this can be attributed to the Korean government’s aggressive response to arrest the virus and isolate the sick.

He added there is “no problem” in the supply of test kits. “We are fully-equipped and we have advanced medical technology to handle the problem. Our medical personnel can conduct 15,000 tests daily,” said Chun, adding: “Our capacity has surpassed other developed countries which have reported fewer number of cases,” Chun explained.

He further said there is full cooperation among Koreans. “Test for coronavirus is even 10 times cheaper (at US$140) in South Korea as compared in United States, which is around US$1,400.”

Chun said if someone is tested positive, the government will pay for the test and it’s free for all members of Shincheonji (New Heaven and Earth) Church of Jesus, the religious group based in Daegu, a city in the southeast, where 75 per cent of all coronavirus cases in South Korea have emerged.

Travel ban is unwise

Chun also downplayed criticisms against President Moon for not implementing a stringent entry ban on China.

“South Korea has banned entry for visitors coming only from Wuhan, the global epicenter of COVID-19. We are a democratic country and there has been a debate on stringent travel restrictions but I believe there was no need to ban entry from all parts of China,” he said.

Chun also noted Koreans traveling abroad are undergoing stringent screening at Korean airports. “Since March 1, anyone leaving Incheon International Airport (ICN) going to Dubai (DXB) or Abu Dhabi (AUH) have to undergo thermal screening.”

The Korean diplomat added tourists should not be afraid visiting South Korea. “People should avoid Daegu but other cities like Seoul, Busan and Jeju Island are safe,” Chun said.

He underscored: “The number is high but it can be contained with the right measures. We have implemented early, aggressive measures to stop transmission and save lives.”

“Aside from South Korea being in the front line of developing a vaccine for coronavirus, we do not hide and cover the truth either good or bad. That is why I’m confident we will overcome and prevail over this threat,” he concluded.

Flights by Korean Air to Dubai suspended for 50 days

South Korean Consul General Chun Young Wook told Gulf News that Korean Air, the largest airline and flag carrier of South Korea, has decided to suspend daily flights between Incheon and Dubai for 50 days, starting from March 5 until April 25.

Chun, however, clarified “the suspension is not a direct result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat but due to the drastic decline of passengers between the UAE and South Korea.”

Chun noted Korean Air has been caught in the coronavirus turmoil like other carriers which have reported cutting travel routes, staff retrenchment, pay cuts and use of smaller aircraft to cope with a huge slump in bookings.

Chun, however, is confident travelers between the UAE and South Korea will pick as the date for the opening of Dubai Expo draws near.

“South Korea has a population of 51 million people and last year 28 million went abroad. As for me, I will be actively inviting a lot of Koreans – businessmen, tourists and investors – to visit Dubai for Expo 2020,” Chun added.

Shaikh Mohamed, President Moon discuss cooperation to fight epidemic

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received a phone call from President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on Thursday.

During the conversation, the two parties drew their attention to the latest developments surrounding the new coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak and discussed ways to cooperate to avoid the further spread of the epidemic.

Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed affirmed the UAE’s keenness to support South Korea with any means necessary in its efforts to curb the impact of COVID-19.

His Highness also expressed his condolences to all the victims of the epidemic, wishing the fast and full recovery of those diagnosed with the virus.

For his part, Moon Jae-in expressed his thanks and appreciation to Sheikh Mohamed for the UAE’s support under the current health crisis, noting the strength of ties between the two countries and their peoples. (With inputs from WAM)

In numbers
6,284 confirmed COVID-19 patients in South Korea (108 discharged; 6,134 isolated)
42 people have died from novel coronavirus
164,740 Koreans were tested for coronavirus
136,624 turned negative
21,832 still awaiting test result
Source: Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention