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South Korea summons Japan envoy over travel curbs in coronavirus row

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Passengers check in at a Japanese airline desk at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul on March 6, 2020. South Korea summoned Japan's envoy on Friday to protest against its neighbour's decision to quarantine South Korean visitors for two weeks.

[SEOUL] South Korea summoned Japan's envoy on Friday to protest against its neighbour's decision to quarantine South Korean visitors for two weeks, and threatened reprisals, as the bid to rein in a coronavirus ignited a new row, following a trade spat last year.

Japan is among almost 100 nations to impose curbs on travellers from South Korea, which has suffered 42 deaths and 6,593 infections in the biggest outbreak outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.

It has barred entry to visitors from highly affected areas in South Korea, and ordered two weeks in quarantine for others.

"If the Japanese government does not withdraw their decision...we cannot help but devise necessary countermeasures, including reciprocal measures," Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told Japanese ambassador Koji Tomita.

She condemned Japan's decision to impose the quarantine without sufficient consultation or prior notice, despite Seoul's efforts to persuade it against travel restrictions.

"We express deep regret towards the unjust measures taken by the Japanese government," Ms Kang added.

Speaking through a translator, Mr Tomita responded that Ms Kang should be well aware of the worsening situation.

"The next two weeks are a critical time period that will determine whether or not we can put an end to Covid-19," he said, referring to the illness caused by the virus, which first emerged in China late last year.

Seoul has earlier protested to the envoys of Southeast Asian neighbours Singapore and Vietnam over similar curbs.

Tokyo faced "mistrust from the international community due to its opaque, passive" response to the coronavirus outbreak, the National Security Council (NSC) said after a meeting at the presidential Blue House earlier in the day.

"We will explore necessary countermeasures based on principles of reciprocity," it said in a statement.

Japan's chief government spokesman defended the travel restrictions, which also apply to visitors from China.

"The decision was the result of a comprehensive review of the information available about the situation in other countries and the effects of other measures," said Yoshihide Suga.

"I think the timing is appropriate."

REUTERS