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(7th LD) S. Korea to send evacuation plane to Wuhan Thursday night

All News 19:27 January 30, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; TRIMS)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Jan. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea was set to send a chartered plane to the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday night to bring home its citizens there after a hourslong delay of the flight caused by slower-than-expected approval from Chinese authorities.

The Korean Air flight was scheduled to depart at 8:45 p.m. from Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, to evacuate at least half the 700 South Koreans. Seoul seeks to send another flight Friday to bring the remainder home.

Under an initial evacuation plan announced on Wednesday, two flights were set to take off at 10 a.m. and noon, with two more scheduled to fly to Wuhan the following day.

Before departing for Wuhan, Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho said that despite the flight delay, the government will bring home all South Koreans who have applied to return to Korea on the plane.

"Whether they are abroad or in Korea, wherever they are, the state's basic mission is to protect the safety and lives of our citizens," Lee told reporters at the airport.

Lee said that although more people will have to board the plane, protective efforts will be implemented to prevent any infection during flight.

"They are basically showing no signs of being ill. So we have strengthened protective measures so as to bring them all together on the plane," the senior official added.

He said that consultations with China are still under way to ensure that the remaining citizens can return home as early as possible.

In a joint media briefing, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Beijing has given approval for one of the chartered planes.

"We believe that they (Chinese) are working in a way in which they give the go-ahead for one plane and then receive requests sequentially, since it has been receiving many other requests from the U.S. and Japan for provisional flights," Kang said.

Seoul officials did not give details of the reason for the delay, but observers said that Beijing might want to avoid the optics of foreigners escaping China in an unsettling exodus.

Sources say that the Chinese government refused to allow two Japanese planes to fly to Wuhan in one day and also turned down U.S. flight schedules multiple times before finally approving them.

The government also plans to continue talks with Beijing over ways to take care of South Koreans remaining in Wuhan, mostly because they have families there who hold Chinese citizenship. China said earlier it won't allow its own citizens to join the evacuation.

(7th LD) S. Korea to send evacuation plane to Wuhan Thursday night - 1

South Korean officials have been in consultations with China on logistical details regarding the emergency transfer of its citizens.

On Tuesday, Seoul announced the plan to airlift its nationals out of Wuhan, after Beijing placed the city under lockdown, suspending flights and transportation there and in its surrounding regions amid the fast spread of the disease.

Seoul has been going all-out to stem the spread of the pneumonia-like illness that has killed 170 and infected over 7,700 in China alone.

South Korea has reported six confirmed cases of the virus infection since early last week, with no fatalities so far. Health authorities are tracking 2,991 individuals who flew from Wuhan between Jan. 14 and 23, considering the disease's 14-day incubation period.

The government said the evacuated people will be put into isolation at two different public facilities in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, and Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, in the country's central region.

But the quarantine plan has drawn strong opposition from the residents in the areas worried about potential infection. Some residents in Asan staged sit-in protests, blaming the government for making the decision without their consent.

Scuffles broke out late Wednesday as some angry residents in Jincheon threw water bottles and paper cups at government officials, including Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip, who had come to brief them on the plan and to ask for their understanding.

Of about 700 people who have applied for the transfer, those with no symptoms will be transported first, and they will be subject to a quarantine check right before and after the flights, and will stay at the facilities for at least 14 days, according to the government.

elly@yna.co.kr
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