South Koreans breaking quarantine rules to be strapped with electronic tracking wristbands

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People in South Korea who don't stay home are going to be tracked.

Responding to a new surge in coronavirus cases, South Korean officials said Saturday that electronic wristbands will be strapped on citizens who disobey self-quarantine rules.

As of Saturday, South Korea had 10,480 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 211 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the decision to start tracking came after the number of people breaching self-quarantine in recent weeks raised alarm.

Election officials check their protective gears as they wait for voters during an early voting of the April 15 general elections at a special polling station set up for coronavirus patients and medical members at a treatment center in Yongin, South Korea.

Election officials check their protective gears as they wait for voters during an early voting of the April 15 general elections at a special polling station set up for coronavirus patients and medical members at a treatment center in Yongin, South Korea. (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

"After deep consideration, the government has decided to put electronic wristbands on people who violate self-isolation rules, such as going outside without notice and not answering phone calls," Chung said Saturday during a meeting in Seoul. "We have listened to quarantine experts and gathered opinions from various communities."

The wristbands, which should be available for use in a couple of weeks, would enable the government to track violators' movements via their cell phones, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

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Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho on Saturday acknowledged the privacy and civil liberty concerns surrounding the wirstbands, which will be enforced through police and local administrative officials.

In this March 1, 2020 file photo, medical staff wearing protective suits take samples from a person with suspected symptoms of the new coronavirus at a drive-thru virus test facility in Goyang, South Korea.

In this March 1, 2020 file photo, medical staff wearing protective suits take samples from a person with suspected symptoms of the new coronavirus at a drive-thru virus test facility in Goyang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

But Yoon said authorities now require more effective monitoring tools because the number of people placed under self-quarantine has ballooned after the country began enforcing 14-day quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad, starting April 1.

Some 54,000 people in South Korea were under self-quarantine as of Thursday, according to Yonhap. Authorities have so far caught more than 160 people violating self-isolation rules.

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Lee Beom-seok, an official from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, admitted that the legal grounds for forcing people to wear the wristbands were “insufficient” and that police and local officials will offer consent forms for the devices while investigating those who were caught breaking quarantine.

Election officials wearing protective gears, wait for voters during an early voting for the April 15 general elections at a special polling station set up for coronavirus patients and medical members at a treatment center in Yongin, South Korea.

Election officials wearing protective gears, wait for voters during an early voting for the April 15 general elections at a special polling station set up for coronavirus patients and medical members at a treatment center in Yongin, South Korea. (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

Under the country’s recently strengthened laws on infectious diseases, foreign nationals may be deported if they violate self-quarantine rules.

South Korean citizens who violate the rules may face fines up to $8,100 and up to a year in jail, according to Reuters.

Lee said Saturday those who agree to wear the wristbands could be possibly considered for a lighter punishment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.