Seoul: Britain formally protested to South Korea on Thursday about regional rules singling out foreign workers for mandatory coronavirus testing, as several countries sought an explanation.
The capital Seoul and neighbouring Gyeonggi Province are among a number of local governments that have ordered all foreign workers to be tested, drawing accusations of xenophobia.
“The British embassy has made clear to the national government and to the Seoul and Gyeonggi administrations that we consider these measures are not fair, they are not proportionate, nor are they likely to be effective,” ambassador Simon Smith said in a video posted on Twitter.
He said he had also raised the issue with South Korea’s human rights commission.
Canada’s ambassador retweeted the video and said several diplomatic missions were making similar representations.
The British and French ambassadors both said that in the meantime, citizens should comply with directions from authorities, who have said the measures are needed to blunt a rise in infections.
Foreigners have accounted for 6.3% of confirmed cases in Seoul since January, against 2.2% in November and December, said Park Yoo-mi, a city quarantine officer.
“Foreign workers are our neighbours, and the safety of the foreign workers is directly linked to the safety of the local community,” she told a news briefing.
She said more than 100 recent cases in the capital had been traced back to workplace transmission by foreign workers.
However, ruling party lawmaker Lee Sang-min said on Facebook that the measures were “human rights violations that will make us an international disgrace”.
He told Reuters: “There shouldn’t be any separation of Korean nationals and foreigners to begin with, when it comes to virus prevention measures.” Ahn Duk-geun, dean of international affairs at Seoul National University, said the measures were detrimental to its 500 foreign students and staff.
Gyeonggi province did say it would drop a requirement for foreign workers to be tested before hire, citing concerns about discrimination.
Of 234,537 foreign workers tested in the province, 203 have proved positive.
Some workers there said the queues and crowds at test centres could be a health risk.
Seoul city authorities said they would extend hours at some testing spots, and provide extra assistance.
Seoul had 243,000 registered foreign workers by last December, although officials estimate another 150,000 may be undocumented.