July 22 (UPI) -- South Korea expressed regret after Vietnamese authorities cremated the body of a South Korean national who may have died due to COVID-19 complications.
South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said Thursday at a regular press briefing that the remains of the deceased South Korean man arrived at Incheon International Airport and the family of the unidentified man received his ashes, News 1 reported.
According to Choi, the Vietnamese government did not notify the South Korean Embassy in Hanoi or the man's relatives about the decision to cremate the body.
The hospital where the man died in Ho Chi Minh City has delivered condolences and apologies, Seoul said.
The South Korean statement comes at a time when Vietnam is struggling with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases, with the daily number of cases averaging 4,700 in the past week, according to Vietnamese government data.
The Vietnamese hospital that went ahead with the cremation said local regulations require patients who die of highly infectious diseases, including COVID-19, must be cremated within 24 hours of death, according to News 1.
The incident is being reported after Seoul and Hanoi agreed to strengthen cooperation on COVID-19. South Korea agreed to provide $2.5 million worth of medical supplies, including syringes for vaccines, according to JoongAng Ilbo Thursday.
There are about 290,000 South Korean nationals living in Vietnam. The cremation may have sparked concerns among members of the community.
Park Jeong-ryeol, a Korean expatriate in Vietnam, told the JoongAng that many South Koreans in the Southeast Asian nation "cannot even leave their homes for fear that they will be cremated immediately if they die from COVID-19."
EDaily reported Tuesday an online petition uploaded to the presidential Blue House site requested COVID-19 vaccines for Koreans living overseas.
Less than 5% of Vietnam's population has been fully vaccinated, according to Vietnamese government data.