Foreign demands rapidly increasing for S. Korean-made coronavirus test kits, knowhow: official

SEOUL, A growing number of foreign countries have been asking about importing South Korean-made coronavirus diagnostic kits and other forms of aid to help curb the pandemic, a foreign ministry official said Wednesday.

Such calls have been rising as Seoul's containment efforts have led to a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases and a low fatality rate, which have created breathing space for South Korea to look beyond its shores to embrace a broader role in the global fight against the virus.

"We have been swamped with requests for our diagnostic products or kits and knowhow from ministerial officials of foreign countries, and even a request from a top-level official, like a prime minister," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Some countries have requested emergency exports of medical products while others have called for the provision of those items in humanitarian aid and of Korean medical professionals, the official said.

A day earlier, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae announced that South Korea had sent 51,000 sampling kits used in coronavirus tests to the United Arab Emirates -- in a development that Seoul officials said marked a subtle shift from its earlier approach focusing mostly on curbing domestic outbreaks.

Foreign requests came mostly through phone conversations or video conferences among senior diplomats or health officials, the ministry official said, noting the coronavirus-induced restrictions on face-to-face meetings have given rise to a new form of diplomacy.

"A different, new form of diplomacy has been taking hold," the official said. "Even when the virus outbreaks calm, this type of non-face-to-face diplomacy may continue to remain active."

Meanwhile, a growing number of South Koreans are being stranded overseas as many countries have taken drastic quarantine measures, such as closing their borders and enforcing restrictions on movement.

As of Tuesday, some 150 South Korean tourists were stranded in Peru, including 84 citizens in Cuzco, about 1,000 kilometers away from the Peruvian capital of Lima. Of them, 140 Koreans have expressed their intention to return home.

"We are exploring ways to transport the citizens to South Korea, as well as the method to bring those in Cuzco all the way to Lima," the ministry official said.

"Depending on the situation, we will look into the need to send a flight there. We are also looking at whether we can get support from countries near Peru that could send their flights to the country," he added.

As the Philippines' government has put the entire island of Luzon under an "enhanced community quarantine," similar to a lockdown, concerns have also risen over the safety of more than 50,000 South Koreans on the island. Of the citizens, 1,200 have expressed their wish to depart for Korea.

"We believe that now is not yet a stage where we have to consider sending a chartered flight there," the official said.

"But we are mulling ways to support their return home, including changing an existing commercial flight to a larger one to carry them," he added.

In Italy, the local community of Korean residents has been seeking to arrange a flight on their own, as a commercial air carrier can send a flight there as long as a minimum quota of passengers is secured for its flight operation.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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