(ATTN: UPDATES paras 2-3 and 5-7 with plane arrival in Vietnam)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea sent three "rapid response" teams to Vietnam on Thursday to help more than 270 citizens quarantined over concerns about the new coronavirus.
Three teams consisting of 12 officials from the foreign ministry and national policy agency arrived in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, via Thailand, respectively.
The teams will provide consular support to 276 citizens who have been isolated at military installations, health care facilities or hotels, as the number of South Korea's COVID-19 infections stands at 6,088 with 42 deaths.
Vietnam currently quarantines people arriving from South Korea, a change from its initial policy that banned the entry people who had traveled in the past two weeks to the southeastern city of Daegu or nearby North Gyeongsang Province, where the bulk of the nation's infections have occurred.
"We will do our best to ease the difficulties faced by our nationals in quarantine. We plan to visit the quarantine facilities first to find out the difficulties and help our diplomatic mission here with negotiating with the Vietnamese authorities," Park Joon-byeong, head of the Hanoi team, told reporters upon arrival.
Park Noh-wan, ambassador to Vietnam, vowed to work with the response teams so as to provide the support the Koreans need.
"The embassy and the response teams will work together to first have the elderly, those with illnesses and students moved to home quarantine from being qurantined at facilities, and help those wishing to return home be able to do so," he said.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was at the airport to encourage the team members.
"I believe these teams in close cooperation with our diplomatic missions in the country can help address difficulties facing our nationals there," she said.
Kang also voiced hopes that should the coronavirus outbreaks start to calm, countries would start to lift their entry restrictions on people from Korea. Currently, 99 countries and territories are imposing entry restrictions or tougher quarantine procedures for Koreans.
"We have heard that the foreign countries have inevitably taken such measures in light of their own quarantine systems, not because their willingness for friendly relations or cooperation with South Korea has been reduced," the minister said.
"That said, I believe that many partner countries would lift the measures if we move past this situation," she added.
Each rapid response team consists of four members, mostly from the foreign ministry and the National Police Agency. The teams were to be dispatched to three areas of responsibility for the South Korean Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate Generals in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.
The teams plan to stay in Vietnam for one week for now, but they could later decide to extend their stay, the ministry said.
In China, there are about 830 South Koreans in quarantine. But the ministry does not plan to send any support teams as its staff at the China-based missions can handle the consular and other affairs related to them.
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