(ATTN: REWRITES lead; CLARIFIES info in paras 4-6)
SEOUL/BUSAN, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will impose a temporary entry ban on international cruise ships to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus, officials said Monday, as the country is beefing up quarantine efforts.
The announcement came amid growing concerns about luxury liners' vulnerability to the highly contagious virus as passengers and crew spend days or weeks together in a confined space.
"(The government) has canceled the planned entry by two cruise ships into (the southeastern port city) of Busan, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a press briefing.
The 82,000-ton Westerdam and the 169,000-ton Spectrum of the Seas were supposed to reach Busan this week, according to the oceans ministry.
Holland America's Westerdam, which left from Hong Kong, was barred from docking in Japan over fears about the virus.
The government will also ban the Westerdam from making a stop in Busan on Feb. 23 and reaching the southern island of Jeju the following day. The Spectrum of the Seas, set to arrive in Busan on Feb. 27, will be also banned.
Concerns about the spread of the virus on cruise ships have mounted amid news reports that 130 cases were found on a cruise ship currently in quarantine off the Japanese coast near Yokohama.
Foreign cruise lines appear to be choosing South Korean ports as an alternative to Chinese ones following the outbreak of the new coronavirus that has killed more than 900 people in China.
For cruise ships that left or traveled through countries where the virus has been reported in the past 14 days, if even one passenger or crew member shows fever or other symptoms of respiratory disease, the Busan Port Authority (BPA) will not permit any person to disembark at its port.
South Korea said Monday it is testing more than 800 people in quarantine for the virus, with the number of confirmed cases unchanged at 27.
The oceans ministry said it will notify cruise ship operators and provincial governments of its decision on the entry ban.
But the government will grant entry in cases where such vessels dock at Korean ports for oil and supplies.