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South Korea police authorized to arrest coronavirus patients

South Korea police authorized to arrest coronavirus patients
South Korea is stepping up measures amid the coronavirus outbreak in neighboring China. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- South Korea police are stepping up law enforcement measures against individuals who do not comply with coronavirus checks in the country, as the death toll rises to 132 in neighboring China.

Police have been sanctioned to arrest or use force against individuals who do not follow quarantine orders. Suspected patients who refuse quarantine or undergo treatment can be fined as much as $2,500, local newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported Wednesday.

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Law enforcement in South Korea can also use mobile phone tracking technology to locate a suspected patient, most likely without a warrant, if the subject does not respond to phone calls or messages, according to the report.

Concerns about the rapidly spreading coronavirus originating from the central Chinese city of Wuhan are rising in Korea, where at least four people have been infected after traveling from China. Seoul's health ministry said Wednesday the government will send chartered flights to evacuate South Korean citizens only; people with symptoms of the disease are to travel on a separate flight, Seoul said.

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Suspected patients are to be quarantined at two locations, the city of Asan in South Chungcheong Province and the county of Jincheon in North Chungcheong Province, Seoul Shinmun reported.

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The decision is deeply controversial. A government-owned facility capable of housing as many as 1,000 people is in Asan, but local residents are voicing opposition, according to the report.

South Korean fears about the epidemic are reaching new highs. By Wednesday, a petition to President Moon Jae-in demanding a travel ban against all mainland Chinese visitors gained more than 580,000 signatures.

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South Koreans are also holding rallies, local television network KBS reported Wednesday.

The protesters called for blocking the entry of all Chinese nationals and demanded greater transparency from the Chinese government.

Lee Jae-gap, an infectious disease expert at the Hallym University Kangdong Sacred Heart Hospital, told KBS a travel ban would increase risks.

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"More people would try to enter the country secretly and conceal their travel history," Lee said. "A ban is counterproductive because it prevents patients from offering voluntary reports."

The World Health Organization has advised against travel bans.

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