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‘Pure racism’: Foreign workers in South Korea slate major city’s ‘discriminatory’ new anti-Covid directive to firms employing them

‘Pure racism’: Foreign workers in South Korea slate major city’s ‘discriminatory’ new anti-Covid directive to firms employing them
Foreign workers have denounced a South Korean city’s newly launched Covid-screening campaign as “racist” and “nonsensical” after it made testing mandatory for workplaces with less than 30 employees – if one of them is a foreigner.

The city of Suwon, some 30km south of the capital Seoul, issued the ‘administrative order’ to block the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. It directed workers and managers at some 441 companies to undergo PCR diagnostic tests at a temporary center in the city by August 15.

The order noted that all workers, both domestic and foreign, at these companies needed to be tested, regardless of their Covid vaccination status. Failure to do so will result in fines of up to two million won ($1,750) or other penalties under the country's Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the country had detected its first cases of the new Delta Plus variant of the virus in a fourth wave of infections. This highly infectious strain has been identified in a handful of countries, including the UK, India, and Portugal.

“This [the mandatory screening] is a preemptive measure to prevent further spread due to the rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases overseas. We ask for the active cooperation of the relevant companies,” an unnamed city official told the Financial News.

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However, the order drew criticism from foreign workers, who said authorities had “doubled down on the racism” following backlash from a similar order in March that targeted non-Korean workers in the province of Gyeonggi, the country’s most populous region. Suwon city is the province’s capital.

The province has some 85,000 registered foreign workers, as well as an estimated illegal foreign workforce of between 100,000 and 200,000 people. The previous order came after at least 275 non-Korean workers employed around the province tested positive for the virus.

The latest health directive has already spawned a dedicated Reddit topic detailing foreign worker complaints. One self-described “long-timer” said they were preparing for their “fourth mandatory test in less than a month.”

“It is pure racism. I would really like to file a civil complaint somehow. This s**t needs to be fought,” the commenter said, adding that although they had always known about being a “second class” resident in the country, recent events had made them “feel below that.”

Several people queried why the order had been limited to companies with less than 30 employees, with one person describing it as “racist and nonsensical,” but wondered whether the authorities were under the “assumption ... that the foreigners are living in dorm style shared accommodations.”

“What is the scientific justification of testing workers at a company with at least one foreign worker? Is a company of 30 people with one foreign worker more likely to spread Covid than a company with 30 people and no foreign workers?” another person said, terming the order “clearly discriminatory”.

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Other commenters suggested that the employee threshold was fixed so as not to “disrupt the goings-on at Samsung.” The tech conglomerate’s Samsung Electronics division is headquartered in Suwon and has a research and development wing in the city that employs foreign workers.

But a few users defended the order, saying it was probably a reaction to news reports of infections in foreign workers. One person, who said they were not Korean, put the criticism down to “western foreigners” claiming “racism … at the slightest inconvenience.”

The country’s hardline test-and-trace approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as a mandatory two-week quarantine for arrivals, has apparently worked thus far, since the nation of nearly 52 million people has reported around 205,000 cases of the disease, including around 2,100 deaths.

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