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(3rd LD) S. Korea to send 3rd evacuation flight to virus-hit Wuhan Tuesday night

All News 20:07 February 11, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS comment from head of gov't quick response team in paras 6-8)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is set to send a third evacuation flight to the new coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan on Tuesday night to bring back about 170 of its citizens and their Chinese spouses and immediate family members, officials said.

The chartered plane is expected to depart from Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, at around 8:45 p.m., arrive in Wuhan late at night and return to Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul on Wednesday morning.

The evacuation mission comes less than a fortnight after two flights brought back a total of 701 nationals from the city amid growing fears over the spread of the deadly virus that has sickened more than two dozens of people in South Korea.

"We got the official approval for the operation of the flight last night," Kim Gang-lip, deputy head of the central disaster headquarters, said during a regular press briefing.

He added that the flight's arrival in Seoul on Wednesday remains uncertain as a document verification process for some 70 Chinese family members could take time in addition to quarantine checks at the airport in Wuhan.

Lee Sang-jin, the deputy foreign minister leading a government rapid response team for Tuesday's planned flight, said his team has prepared supporting documents for the families to help them with the verification process.

"We've got the family relation certificates in printouts in English and Korean, and we are taking the papers with us," he told reporters at the airport, adding that the consulate general in Wuhan plans to issue emergency passports for about 10 of those who do not have documents at all.

The team consists of about 12 staffers, including those from the National Medical Center and state quarantine officials.

Also aboard the flight to Wuhan will be nearly 20 Chinese nationals in Korea who want to return to their homes in Hubei Province, where the virus-hit city is located.

Among the Chinese is a 35-year-old woman from Wuhan who was discharged from hospital last week after having tested positive in Korea for the novel coronavirus last month.

This time, the Chinese authorities have given approval for Chinese citizens' trips to South Korea aboard the third evacuation flight, though they did not allow them to board the previous two flights, along with their immediate Korean family members.

South Korea's consulate general in Wuhan has informed the Chinese evacuees of the need to prepare documents, such as marriage certificates, that would prove their relationships with Korean family members.

Upon their arrival, the evacuees are to be screened for possible infection and then be transported to temporary accommodation at a language institute of the Joint Forces Military University in Icheon, 80 kilometers south of Seoul, for 14 days, the virus' incubation period.

Amid the mounting dread of the virus that emerged in the central Chinese city in December, Seoul has been beefing up quarantine efforts, as well as its diplomacy to ensure the safety of its citizens in Wuhan and its vicinity.

About 230 of South Korean citizens and their immediate family members, including those of Chinese descent, are currently in Wuhan.

Those who have not applied to use the evacuation flight appear to have decided to stay in China due to their jobs.

South Korea also plans to use the third flight to deliver protective face masks, medical supplies and other items to the consulate general in Wuhan and citizens in the epicenter of the deadly virus.

China's state media reports said that the death toll of the virus has exceeded 1,000 in China, with the total number of confirmed cases topping 42,000.

Authorities at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul carry out quarantine work on the first evacuation flight that brought 368 South Korean citizens home from coronavirus-hit Wuhan, China, on Jan. 31, 2020. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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