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(2nd LD) S. Korea has no plan to pull consular staff out of Wuhan: official

All News 16:38 February 03, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS info on gov't plan to send more relief items in paras 6-7)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has no plan to withdraw the last-remaining staff members from its consulate in the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, an official said Monday.

Eight people are still working at the South Korean consulate general in Wuhan, the epicenter of the deadly virus outbreak under lockdown, including Vice Consul General Lee Kwang-ho serving as interim head of the mission, according to the foreign ministry.

That is more than half of the entire workforce at the 14-member office, the ministry said. Six administrative staffers have returned home for the Lunar New Year holiday or due to regular work schedules set prior to the outbreak.

"We intend to maintain the level of our essential workforce there to the very end, to provide necessary consular support to those remaining in Hubei province," Kang Hyung-sik, head of the ministry's international safety management bureau, said by phone. "We won't pull out as long as there is even one national left there."

(2nd LD) S. Korea has no plan to pull consular staff out of Wuhan: official - 1

The decision appears in line with those of other foreign countries, like the United States and Britain, which have instructed non-emergency government officials and their families in Wuhan to leave the country, while having the rest of employees continue their duties.

According to the foreign ministry, there are 200-300 South Korean nationals and their families in Wuhan and in the vicinity of the city. The government plans to send them more stocks of relief goods that are running out fast, such as masks, and is receiving requests from the residents to determine the demand, a posting on the Wuhan consular office's website showed later Monday.

"We're working with China through diplomatic channels to send other additional items as we continue to closely monitor the situation there," a ministry official said.

The government evacuated a total of 701 people from Wuhan via two emergency flights on Thursday and Friday. One individual has been confirmed to have contracted the virus, and the rest have been put into a 14-day isolation at two public facilities in the country's central region.

South Korea has reported 15 confirmed cases of the virus as of Monday morning, with no fatalities so far. The new strain of the virus has caused more than 360 deaths and 17,200 infections in China.

On Sunday, the government said it will temporarily ban the entry of foreigners who have traveled to Hubei province over the past two weeks and that it is reviewing a possible raise of the travel alert level to a "withdrawal recommendation" for all of mainland China.

Currently, Seoul has imposed such a travel alert, the second highest in its four-tier travel warning system, on Hubei province.


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