Seoul, South Korea – Imagine two people.
Both live in South Korea. Both received their COVID-19 vaccinations in July while they were abroad – one in the United States, and the other in France.
Both had to undergo quarantine upon their return to Korea, but officials accepted only one of them’s ‘fully vaccinated’ status, which meant the man was allowed to visit high-risk places such as clubs and bars. had, and to avoid future quarantines, the other found their daily lives severely restricted.
The first is a South Korean citizen and the second is a foreigner.
“It looks like it’s kind of unfair and somehow discriminatory,” said Laurent Botany, a French national who recently arrived in Korea and was vaccinated in her home country in July.
And his Korean counterpart agrees.
“I can’t find or understand any rational reason for treating foreign residents differently from Koreans for the same certificate. It’s like they think foreigners are more likely to lie. It’s a disgrace. And there is clear discrimination,” said Choi Il-woo, a Korean national who was vaccinated in the US in July.
Recognition of the vaccine in South Korea comes as restrictions related to the pandemic are revised this month under a policy it calls “living with COVID-19”.
The new rules include a COVID-19 pass that allows for full immunization in facilities such as nightclubs, bars, gyms and sports venues. It has passes – an app called COV – from which foreigners who have been vaccinated outside Korea are excluded.
Korean officials have raised concerns about the reliability of vaccinations carried out beyond their borders and require that foreigners go to the Korean consulate in the country where they are to receive a “quarantine exemption” before entering South Korea. Vaccinated. That exemption means their vaccines can be registered in the COOV app.
“Since there is difficulty in verifying the authenticity of vaccination certificates issued from abroad, vaccination certificates issued from abroad are recognized by the Korean government only if, in the case of a foreign national, from Korea’s diplomatic offices abroad. A quarantine waiver issued is submitted,” said a statement from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency that was delivered to international journalists.
South Korea also has a list of 16 countries, including Myanmar, South Africa and Chile, from where no quarantine exemption is possible.
confusing and complicated
As the world slowly opens back up and international travel shows signs of a rebound, countries continue their and sometimes conflicting policies, despite WHO advising governments to avoid exclusion policies and recognize vaccines equally across borders. are adopting.
Some other countries have also limited the number of vaccines they are willing to accept, with some not recognizing those vaccinated with the Chinese vaccines Sinovac and Sinoform or the Russian vaccine Sputnik-V.
“Some of the COVID-19 policies in South Korea right now are as bat-crazy as North Korea’s,” said Chad O’Carroll, journalist and founder of NKnews.org, a North Korea-focused media organization. Posted on Twitter.
Complicating the issue, some foreigners in South Korea are not even eligible for the exemption. These include students as well.
“Well, because I’m here as a student, and the students have to go through quarantine when they arrive, I can’t get a quarantine exemption,” Butney told Al Jazeera.
Students are simply “not eligible to apply for a quarantine waiver”, as the Korean embassy in Finland puts it in bright red letters on its website.
Unable to download the COOV app to register in the Korean system and double-jawed to prove his status, Batoni has been shut down by some sections of Korean society.
“I tried to enter a kind of dance club and bar, and the person at the entrance told us we couldn’t enter with our foreign proof of vaccination, we had to get the COV app. Couldn’t get recognition,” she said.
The fact that the rules only apply to foreigners living in South Korea and not citizens has upset many.
At a press conference last week, health officials tried to explain as best that the restrictions were not xenophobic but of a practical nature.
“The verification process is difficult to carry out, with some countries having standardized formats for verification, while other countries accept different proofs from clinics, hospitals or local governments,” said Sohan Yangaria, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Welfare. “That’s why we are seeking exemptions issued by our offices abroad.”
However, not everyone agrees with this.
aliens set aside
The British ambassador has criticized the logic of the Korean system.
“If the evidence produced by a Korean national of a foreign vaccination is sufficient to register that vaccination for Vaccine Pass, then the same evidence must be sufficient to register the foreign vaccination of foreign nationals as well,” said Simon Smith, British Ambassador for South Korea, said in a video uploaded to the official Twitter account of its embassy.
The vaccine pass policy has rekindled concerns about official discrimination against foreigners in a country where only three percent of the population is of non-Korean origin.
Earlier this month, it emerged that the small town of Gimhe ordered all foreign children to be tested for the coronavirus after a surge in cases linked to kindergarten. The online response prompted the city to withdraw the order and apologize.
“We regret the inconvenience caused to the parents of the foreign children,” the local government said in a statement, according to South Korean news service Yonhap.
There is currently no law in South Korea against discrimination based on ethnicity, race or sexual orientation.
Legislation has been proposed several times since 2007, but has failed to move forward due to resistance from conservative politicians and religious groups.
“This law is a very general and basic law, it is a law based on equal rights enshrined in the Korean Constitution,” said Lee Jong-jeol, co-head of the South Korean Coalition of Anti-Discrimination Law. ,[The vaccination controversy] Will help Korean people take more interest, to understand why they need an anti-discrimination law.”
As the British ambassador noted, discrimination against foreigners over COVID-19 vaccination is something that affects not only business and investors, but also people who are actively contributing to Korean society.
But any changes to the law are likely too late for Betani and other foreigners who are residents of South Korea and were vaccinated elsewhere.
For now, they must follow the rules for people who don’t have them at all – to go to a gym, club or other large venue to submit a negative PCR test done within the past 48 hours.
Some are being re-vaccinated, but Betani is just hoping for the best and the government will change its policies.
“I guess we’ll have to wait,” she says with a laugh.