Online comments made from internet users claiming that foreign workers are causing the recent hepatitis A epidemic is stirring up controversy.
"Let's not allow any foreign workers from underdeveloped countries into Korea," one comment read. "Most of them don't even know what vaccination is and they come to Korea with all kinds of diseases and spread it in the country."
The comment went on further on to say that the foreign workers then receive insurance benefits paid for by Korean citizens, concluding that forbidding foreign workers from developing countries can resolve any further epidemics.
These comments came after the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported a steep increase in the number of reported cases of hepatitis A this year. According to the KCDC, the number of reported cases for hepatitis A until April 28 was 3,597, a threefold increase from the 1,067 in the same period of 2018.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor stated that such accusations were groundless, however.
"It is not easy for foreign workers with infectious diseases to enter the country," a foreign worker department official at the ministry was quoted as saying by UPI. "For foreigners to work in Korea, they are required to have a medical examination in their country and attach the medical certificate."
Even after entering Korea, foreign workers have to go through a medical examination at a local hospital after signing an employment contract, he added.
The ministry stressed that it conducts follow-up disease controls after foreigners land on jobs here. "Once a foreigner starts working they are automatically covered by the nation's health insurance system which means that they receive the same kind of health checkup as Koreans do," he said.
Those allegations that foreign workers who underwent double-checkups are causing the hepatitis A is groundless and has no medical basis whatsoever, the official said.
Medical professional also dismissed the accusations on foreigner workers causing the recent hepatitis A crisis as poorly founded, and some doctors have pointed out that Koreans who have traveled abroad may get hepatitis A during their visit and then spread infection when they return.
This is not the first time that xenophobic commenters have pointed their fingers toward foreign workers as the cause of an epidemic. There was a similar phenomenon when the measles outbreak and during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in January 2002.
Experts agree that it is essential to prevent such unnecessary fear that spawns from unjustifiable xenophobia.
"The main reason for the expression of hate is the feeling of belonging to a group and having power," said Professor Ahn Do-hyun at Jeju National University. "Those who make hate speeches think their way of life is being threatened and they try to compensate such feeling by sense of belonging."
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