(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS new info in 4th para)
By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, Feb. 18 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean presidential plane arrived in Japan on Tuesday to evacuate six nationals and a Japanese spouse from a quarantined cruise ship docked near Tokyo, after an increase in onboard infections of the new coronavirus.
The VCN-235 of the Air Force arrived at Japan's Haneda Airport hours after it departed from Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, south of the capital. The plane plans to return to Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul on Wednesday morning.
Fourteen South Koreans -- nine passengers and five crew members -- have remained inside the Diamond Princess since it reported the first group of infections of COVID-19 on Feb. 5. The number of cases has surged to more than 450 out of some 3,700 aboard.
Among the Koreans to board the plane bound for Seoul are four crew members, a source said. Seoul initially planned to bring home five people, but two more crew members are known to have applied to take the flight.
None of the South Koreans on the ship have contracted the disease.
Only the five will board the government plane as the rest of them apparently expressed a desire to stay on the ship, largely due to their residential status and lack of connection to South Korea. All but three of the 14 people are permanent residents in Japan, the foreign ministry in Seoul said earlier.
The evacuees from the ship will be placed into isolation for 14 days at a facility in the quarantine office of Incheon International Airport, Kim said.
The planned flight to Japan is the latest in a series of aerial evacuations by South Korea from a virus-hit foreign country. It sent three planes to Wuhan, China, in late January and earlier this month to pull some 800 of its citizens and their family members out of the epicenter of the virus outbreak.
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