(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 8-11; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government on Sunday decided to push to revise the law to require foreign coronavirus patients to cover the costs of their treatment amid a spike in the number of new infections among foreigners arriving from abroad.
The decision was reached at a pan-governmental COVID-19 meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, chaired by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun.
Under the current law, in-hospital care and treatment costs for confirmed patients are covered by the government regardless of nationality.
The health ministry will be in charge of revising regulations to demand treatment costs from foreigners who know they are infected with COVID-19 yet travel to Korea and those who end up confirmed with the coronavirus during their two-week quarantine period upon arrival.
The government intends to apply the envisioned new rule initially only to those caught violating quarantine rules. The government will review expanding the scope depending on the virus situation.
The government will also review possible provision of financial support to overseas South Korean nationals who become infected with COVID-19 and need treatment.
The decision came one day after South Korea's new virus cases surged to an almost four-month high of 113, of which 34 were reported from sailors on a Russia-flagged fishing vessel docked in the southeastern port city of Busan. Two more Russians were confirmed with the virus Sunday.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said at a press briefing that charging foreigners for the costs of treatment will take into consideration the principle of reciprocity in diplomatic relations.
"For countries that demand treatment fees from infected South Koreans, if we demand the cost of treatment for their nationals within our borders, I think our people overseas might have much more opportunities to receive (COVID-19) treatments for free," Park said.
Park also explained that the government plans to charge coronavirus-infected inbound travelers for hospitalization and medical costs but not testing. Park stressed that tests will remain free for all nationalities.
"Tests are carried out as a part of safety measures for our country. I think will be very difficult to charge for testing costs, too," the minister said.
On Sunday, South Korea reported 58 additional cases of the new virus, bringing the total caseload to 14,150.