(ATTN: REWRITES lead; UPDATES with more details from para 5)
SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will temporarily suspend visa-free entry and visa waiver programs with countries imposing entry bans on Koreans, as it seeks to stem imported cases of the new coronavirus, the prime minister said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said the government will expand entry restrictions on foreigners traveling for reasons that are not essential and urgent.
"While maintaining the basis of openness, the government will strengthen (entry) restrictions in accordance with reciprocity," Chung said at a pan-government meeting to discuss ways to contain COVID-19.
The stricter move comes as imported cases of the new coronavirus have accounted for the bulk of new infections.
A total of 148 countries, including 41 European nations and 36 countries in Asia and the Pacific, have imposed entry bans on South Koreans over the coronavirus outbreak, according to quarantine authorities.
The government's measures will be applied to 88 countries. South Korea runs visa-free entry programs with 34 countries, such as Australia and Canada, and holds visa waiver treaties with 54 nations, like France, Russia and Thailand.
South Korea did not go so far as to slap entry bans on foreigners, but the new steps will make it harder for foreigners to visit the country.
Since April 1, South Korea has imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine on all international arrivals in a bid to stem the rise in imported cases.
South Korea reported 53 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the nation's total to 10,384. Of the new caseload, 24 cases, or 45 percent, were presumed to come from abroad.