SEOUL: South Korea will lift its current pre-travel Covid-19 test requirement for inbound travellers later this week, as the government believes the recent virus wave has passed its peak and the spread of omicron could slow down, an official said Wednesday.
The new rule that will take effect Saturday came after a state infectious disease advisory committee recommended the government lift the mandatory pre-travel polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for inbound travellers, reports Yonhap News Agency.
"All inbound travellers, whether our nationals or foreigners, arriving aboard a plane or ship will not need to hand in a negative PCR test starting midnight of September 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.
Currently, inbound travellers 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 low efficiency of the tests that often lack accuracy and cost burdens for individual travellers.
They also cited other countries that have removed the test mandate.
"The virus has been slowing in other countries and we have also confirmed a decline in nine weeks," Peck Kyong-ran, 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.
Travellers still need to take a PCR test within the first 24 hours of their arrival in South Korea, a "minimum measure" put in place to prevent the inflow and spread of any variant from overseas.
Rapid antigen tests will not be accepted.
On Wednesday, South Korea reported 103,961 new Covid cases, including 458 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 23,246,398, the KDCA said.
The country added 75 Covid-19 fatalities, putting the death toll at 26,764.