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(3rd LD) First S. Korean evacuation plane with 367 citizens on board arrives from virus-hit Wuhan

All News 09:51 January 31, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 2-5, byline; UPDATES confirmed cases, death toll in China; CHANGES photos)
By Song Sang-ho and Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) -- The first evacuation plane carrying 367 South Koreans from the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan arrived in Seoul on Friday, amid rising fears over the rapid spread of the deadly virus that has led the U.N. health agency to declare it a global public health emergency.

The plane carrying about half of some 720 South Koreans who applied for evacuation landed at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul at about 8 a.m. South Korea wants to send another plane to bring the remaining citizens home.

A total of 368 people were supposed to board the plane, but one person was excluded at the last minute after being found to have a fever, according to a source.

The evacuated people were set to undergo additional health screenings at the airport and be put into isolation for 14 days at two provincial public facilities if they show no symptoms.

Those suspected of infection will immediately be transported to state-designated hospitals for treatment.

Before boarding the Korean Air Boeing 747 plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, the passengers went through rigorous quarantine checks that took longer than expected and caused a delay in their departure, a Seoul official said.

The chartered Korean Air flight carrying 367 South Korean nationals from Wuhan lands at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul on Jan. 31, 2020. (Yonhap)

Final preparations were under way for housing the evacuees at the two facilities in Asan and Jincheon, both about 90 km south of the capital, amid tightened security against possible interruption by resident protesters.

After the government picked the two locations, residents there strongly protested the decision, arguing the designation came without their consent. The protests grew more strident as South Korea reported its first case of human-to-human transmission on its soil Thursday.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country stands at seven as of Friday morning.

Under an initial evacuation plan, South Korea was to send two flights each on Thursday and Friday.

But after consultations with China, it changed the plan and sent only one flight Thursday. Talks with Chinese authorities have been under way to arrange additional flights to bring back the rest of the citizens from the epicenter of the virus.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has been under a lockdown aimed at blocking the spread of the virus. Countries, including the United States and Japan, are scrambling to shuttle their citizens from the virus-stricken town. Russia has tightened its border with China.

Hours before their arrival, the World Health Organization declared the epidemic in China a public health emergency of international concern, a designation that would trigger more concerted global efforts to curb the spread of the virulent virus.

Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan late last month, China has reported more than 9,690 confirmed cases and 210 deaths. The virus has spread to around 20 countries, including the U.S., Japan and Canada.

Ambulances for South Korean nationals evacuated from Wuhan arrive at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul, on Jan. 31, 2020 (Yonhap)

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