On Wednesday, an official said South Korea will lift its current pre-travel COVID-19 test requirement for inbound travelers later this week.
The new rule that will take effect next Saturday came after a state infectious disease advisory committee recommended the government lift the mandatory pre-travel polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for inbound travelers.
“All inbound travelers, whether our nationals or foreigners, arriving aboard a plane or ship will not need to hand in a negative PCR test starting midnight of Sept. 3,” Second Vice Health Minister Lee Ki-il said in a virus response meeting.
The new measure will be applied to all arrivals, regardless of their vaccination status or the country of departure.
Inbound travelers currently are required to show a negative result within 48 hours of their PCR tests or within 24 hours of their rapid antigen tests to enter the country.
Critics and the travel industry have called for the requirements to be scrapped, citing the low efficiency of the tests that often lack accuracy and cost burdens for individual travelers.
“The virus has been slowing in other countries and we have also confirmed a decline in nine weeks,” Peck Kyong-ran, the commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said.
“The decision is aligned with the global trend of discontinuing the negative PCR test submission, although we will quickly toughen the entry procedure in the event of another variant outbreak,” Peck said.
Travelers still need to take a PCR test within the first 24 hours of their arrival in South Korea, and a “minimum measure” is put into place to prevent the inflow and spread of any variant from overseas. Rapid antigen tests will not be accepted.
The government said it plans to introduce the retooled COVID-19 vaccines known to be more effective for the BA.5 omicron variant, the dominant strain in the current virus wave, in the fourth quarter of this year.
Those aged 60 and over, or with underlying health conditions, will be prioritized for inoculation.
Authorities will also start allowing the inoculation of SKYCovione vaccines, developed by SK Bioscience, starting from next month.
On Wednesday, South Korea reported 103,961 new COVID-19 infections, including 458 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 23,246,398, according to KDCA.
Health authorities and experts mentioned that the recent virus wave has passed its peak, and they expect to see a gradual slowdown of the omicron spread for some time.