SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – South Korea will end the pre-departure Covid-19 test rule for travellers to the country starting on Saturday (Sept 3), Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.

South Korea lifted most of its pandemic-related restrictions in May, but has maintained some of the strictest border measures among major economies, requiring inbound travellers to present a negative coronavirus test result taken before departure.

Daily Covid-19 infections in the country have been hovering around 100,000 in recent weeks after reaching more than 180,000 in mid-August.

The new rule that will take effect on 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.

“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 Sept 3,” Second Vice Health Minister Lee Ki-il said in a virus response meeting.

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.

Travellers, however, 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, Mr Lee said.

The government said it plans to introduce the retooled Covid-19 vaccines known to be more effective for the BA.5 Omicron variant, the dominant strain in the current virus wave, in the fourth quarter of this year.

Those aged 60 and over, or with underlying health conditions, will be prioritized for inoculation.

On Wednesday, South Korea reported 103,961 new Covid-19 infections, including 458 cases from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 23,246,398, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

The latest daily tally is down from Tuesday’s 115,638 cases. Health authorities and experts said the recent virus wave has passed its peak, and they expect to see a gradual slowdown of the Omicron spread for some time.

The country added 75 Covid-19 deaths, putting the death toll at 26,764.