South Koreans call in petition for Chinese to be barred

Coronavirus: South Koreans call in petition for Chinese to be barred

A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a paramilitary police officer (R) outside Beijing railway station in Beijing on January 21, 2020. Credit: AFP Photo

More than half a million South Koreans have signed a petition calling for a ban on visitors from China as Seoul announced on Tuesday it would evacuate citizens from the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak.

A petition filed with the presidential Blue House last week had gathered more than 540,000 signatures by Tuesday, highlighting a growing fear in South Korea that the coronavirus could spread.

South Korea has found four cases of the virus.

The first was a Chinese national but the other three are South Koreans who travelled from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started.

That has not stopped the calls for Chinese visitors to be banned.

"Coronavirus is spreading from China. Even North Korea is banning Chinese people from entering," wrote the anonymous author of the petition, adding that even a temporary ban would help stop the virus from spreading too widely.

The Blue House has not directly responded to the petition. When asked about other countries' bans on Chinese entries, its spokesman said only that the issue should be handled in close consultation with the World Health Organization.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because many of its details are still unknown. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases. It is still too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.

"The government must respond to the petition and come up with strong measures such as barring Chinese tourists," said a passerby in Seoul, a man in his 50s who only gave his surname Chae. He was wearing a surgical mask.

Kim Eun-kyung, 40, a social worker with two children, said she was also concerned about the outbreak but she also worried that a ban on visitors could upset China and bring "political, economic risks".