February 29, 2020 / 8:48 AM / a month ago

Overseas students in South Korea fear prejudice, isolation amid virus outbreak

SEOUL (Reuters) - Annie had been ready to leave her home city of Hong Kong and return to South Korea for the spring semester when her university told her she was required to self-quarantine for 14 days in a dormitory room upon arrival.

The short journey from the Incheon international airport to her school campus in the same port city just west of Seoul was not easy, as taxis shunned customers deemed to be coming from China, where the coronavirus outbreak began.

“I was rejected twice by taxis after they asked me where I came from,” the 19-year-old sophomore at Yonsei University told Reuters via a video clip from the room where she is isolated.

“It didn’t feel nice obviously, but I know they wanted to be secure, they’re scared as well, so I’m not taking it personally.”

South Korea is grappling with the largest outbreak of the virus outside China, and recorded the biggest daily jump in infections on Saturday, with 594 new cases for the tally of 2,931.

Most of South Korea’s cases were traced to a local church. But the expected arrival of some 70,000 Chinese students for the upcoming semester has stoked fears over a wider transmission, prompting more than 760,000 South Koreans to sign a petition calling for a blanket entry ban for China.

Annie, who only gave her first name due to privacy concerns, said she was given a mask and a thermometer with which to take her temperature every day before reporting to security officials there.

In the video, she showed a small room with bunk beds, desks and chairs for four people. As she opened the door, a lunch package was left outside, consisting of a sandwich, an orange, a bag of nuts, a bottle of fruit juice and mineral water.

The school also provides basic supplies including toiletries, she said.

The university has said the self-quarantine policy is in line with government guidelines that apply to several other countries where infections have been confirmed, including Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

The isolation, perceived discrimination and uncertainty surrounding school schedules, have led Annie to decide to take leave for a semester and go back home, she said.

“I feel like if I really stay here for another four months, problems like that will happen every day because it already happened in the first hour that I arrived,” she said, referring to taxis avoiding some passengers.

“Everything’s changing every day, but we can’t really blame anyone for that.”

Reporting by Chaeyoun Won and Hyunyoung Yi; Writing by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Ed Davies

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