South Korea will scrap predeparture COVID-19 tests for arrivals, lifting some of the last pandemic-related border controls in a boost to the country’s beleaguered travel industry.
Travellers to the country will no longer be required to present a negative coronavirus test result starting on Saturday, the Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.
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The change comes after a government advisory committee recommended ending mandatory predeparture PCR tests for inbound travellers. Travellers will still need to take a PCR test within 24 hours of arriving in the country.
South Korea is among the region’s last economies to hold onto strict border controls, though China, which has an ultra-strict “zero COVID” strategy, Japan and Taiwan continue to impose extensive barriers to travel.
Asian countries including Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have lifted testing requirements in recent months as the region welcomes back travel after relying heavily on border restrictions earlier in the pandemic.
South Korea lifted quarantine requirements for vaccinated tourists in April and dropped quarantine for all arrivals regardless of vaccination status in July. Tourists have been slow to return, however, with passenger traffic at main gateway Incheon Airport in July reaching less than one-quarter of pre-pandemic levels.
The East Asian country has reported some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the world in recent weeks despite high vaccination rates and widespread mask-wearing, although the vast majority of infections have been mild.
Daily cases have hovered at about 100,000 since topping 180,000 in mid-August amid the spread of highly transmissible Omicron sub-variants.