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(2nd LD) S. Korean chartered flight heads home carrying 80 people evacuated from coronavirus-hit Iran

All Headlines 15:10 March 19, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in 3rd para; CLARIFIES 7th para; UPDATES figures in last para; REPLACES photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean government-arranged chartered flight departed for Seoul on Thursday, carrying 80 people evacuated from Iran due to the worsening outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The Asiana Airlines plane, with 74 Koreans and six Iranian family members aboard, took off from Al Maktoum International Airport near Dubai at 8:05 a.m. (Korean time), the foreign ministry in Seoul said. It is scheduled to arrive at Incheon International Airport on Thursday afternoon.

The evacuees had earlier been airlifted from Tehran to Dubai on a separate chartered flight.

Upon arrival at Incheon, they will be transported to a government-run accommodation facility to spend about two days for coronavirus tests. If they test negative, they will be asked to self-isolate at their homes, officials said.

Seoul had been in talks with Tehran to arrange an evacuation flight to bring back its citizens via a nearby third country. As of Thursday, Iran was the third-most infected country after China and Italy, with its caseload topping 17,300 and more than 1,130 deaths.

Outbound flights from Iran have virtually been halted as many foreign countries are banning entry from Tehran over virus fears.

Concerns have also grown over limited access to medicine and proper treatment there as Iran has been suffering a shortage of such goods and other commodities due to U.S. sanctions.

The two sides had initially agreed to operate the emergency flight around late last week, but the schedule was pushed back as the consultations took longer than expected.

To help ease humanitarian concerns in Iran and maintain economic ties with it, Seoul has been exploring ways to export humanitarian goods to the country.

Early this week, the Iranian Embassy in Seoul said its country welcomes international medical assistance to help fight the novel virus, calling on the need for a globally coordinated response to containing the pandemic.

On Thursday, South Korea's infection tally stood at 8,565, with 91 deaths.

South Koreans and their Iranian family members stand in line to go through immigration processes at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran on March 19, 2020, as they were set to return home on chartered flights via Dubai, following a spike in coronavirus infections in the Middle Eastern country. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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