A 27-year-old man was sentenced on Tuesday to four months in prison for breaking self-quarantine. It was the first court ruling in a COVID-19 case since the infectious disease control law was toughened last month.
It is also the first time a jail term has been handed out in South Korea for a quarantine violation.
The man, surnamed Kim, was required to self-isolate for two weeks upon being discharged in early April from the Catholic University of Korea Uijeongbu St. Mary’s Hospital, where mass COVID-19 infections had occurred.
On April 14, two days before he was due to be released from self-quarantine, Kim left his home in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. He slept in the park and visited a sauna and a convenience store before he was caught April 16.
Police and the city of Uijeongbu put him in a temporary shelter in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province, and had him tested for COVID-19, but he broke away again and was nabbed on a nearby hill an hour later.
Kim told police that he felt stifled and stressed due to the enforced isolation.
The Uijeongbu District Court sentenced him to four months in jail for violating the law on infectious disease control and prevention.
Kim’s mother said immediately after the court ruling that while she admitted her son’s wrongdoing, she believed the sentence was too harsh and she wished to appeal.
Under the revised law on infectious disease control, which took effect April 5, the penalty for violating self-quarantine was toughened from a fine of up to 3 million won ($2,424) to a fine of up to 10 million won or a prison term of up to a year.
The prosecution had sought a one-year jail term for Kim.
The judge wrote in the verdict that strong punishment was necessary as Kim’s crime took place at a time when the COVID-19 situation was dire in Korea and overseas.
The first person to be detained for breaking self-quarantine was a 68-year-old man in Seoul’s Songpa-gu who had just flown in from the US.
He was detained April 14, four days before Kim, after visiting a sauna and restaurants over two days.
The prosecution sought a six-month jail term for the older man, who is due to appear in court June 16.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com