MOSCOW – Fear has been raised over a new coronavirus outbreak in South Korea, as the majority of the crew of a Russian merchant ship tested positive for the disease, after coming into contact with dozens of dock workers in the city of Busan last week.
The 4,000-ton Ice Stream cargo ship reported that its 21 crew members were healthy before they began unloading their cargo along with Korean port workers who were not wearing masks, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday. .
However, local officials evaluated the crew, and Yonhap reported that a shipping agent notified local authorities that the captain of the Ice Stream was changed at the last minute before the ship left Vladivostok on June 16, due to a positive coronavirus test.
The Russian consulate in Busan confirmed in a Facebook post on Tuesday that 16 of the crew tested positive for the virus, while the remaining five showed negative results. The difference in infection counts reported by the consulate and the 17 reported by Yonhap was not immediately clear.
South Korea’s Head of Security and Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters Kim Ganglip told Yonhap on Tuesday that stricter measures will now apply to all Russian ships entering the Port of Busan.
“All Russian ships entering the Port of Busan will have to go through quarantine inspections on board from today,” he said.
South Korea has been praised for the way it has handled the epidemic. At its peak in late February, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 909 cases daily. Most emerged in the city of Daegu, once the nation’s COVID-19 epicenter.
But people across the country followed strict guidelines by staying locked inside their homes, and this, along with early and accessible testing and intensive tracking, helped South Korea flatten the curve in late March.
The Russian government has recently been signaling to its own citizens that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Russia has ended and that government measures have successfully contained the spread of the virus.
But Russia has reported more than 600,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, making it the third-largest outbreak in the world, and many have seen political motives behind the Russian government’s insistence that Russia has withstood the storm and the virus is downhill.
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Russia is currently holding a week-long constitutional referendum that, if passed, will see President Vladimir Putin’s presidential term restored, allowing him to rule until 2036. Opposition figures have accused the Kremlin of downplaying the virus. to encourage people to go out and vote.
South Korea is not the first country to accuse Russia of exporting positive cases of COVID-19. In recent weeks, China has reported a series of cases entering the country from across the Russian border.