Government to send planes to airlift Koreans from Wuhan

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Government to send planes to airlift Koreans from Wuhan

The Korean government announced Tuesday that it will charter four flights out of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, to evacuate some 700 Korean nationals later this week.

Second Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho in a press briefing at the annex building of the government complex in central Seoul said that the government decided to support the return of some 700 Koreans, including nationals residing in the region and students studying abroad there, who expressed a desire to return to their home country.

They are expected to be transported on four chartered flights dispatched to Wuhan over Thursday and Friday. The dates are currently being consulted with the Chinese government and need final confirmation, Lee added.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun earlier in the afternoon convened a meeting with related ministers on how to respond to the rapid spread of coronavirus including the transportation of stranded Koreans out of Wuhan and protection of overseas nationals.

The city of Wuhan has been under lockdown since last Thursday.

Lee said the government reached the decision to support the return of the Korean nationals taking into consideration that the Chinese government has shut down public transportation and flights out of Wuhan and surrounding regions and because local medical facilities cannot provide necessary treatment and services under current circumstances.

The Koreans who return from Wuhan will undergo a first round of inspections supervised by health officials dispatched from Korea before boarding the plane.

Addressing concerns on the spread of the coronavirus domestically, Lee added that all Koreans that return from Wuhan will spend a designated period of time in isolation in two facilities designated by the government.

Training facilities for public servants are being considered for the temporary isolation units for the returnees.

Experts say that the incubation period for the virus is 14 days. The coronavirus can be transmitted through person-to-person contact and causes a pneumonia-like illness, with symptoms such as coughing, fever and breathing difficulties.

Other countries, including the United States and Japan, have also announced they will be evacuating consulate staff and citizens from Wuhan this week.

South Korea’s consulate general in Wuhan conducted a survey on Monday to determine the demand for airlifting from the region.

The passengers from Wuhan are expected to pay for a certain portion of the cost of the chartered flight after their return.

“Those who return on the chartered flights do not have any symptoms of the virus but will be thoroughly cut off from outside contact while living in temporary isolation,” said Lee, adding the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Ministry of Public Administration and Security will be closely monitoring the situation to contain the virus should any symptoms develop during the incubation period. “We will do our utmost to protect these people so they can safely pass the incubation period and return to their families.”

The coronavirus has resulted in over 100 deaths and 4,500 infections in China alone as of Tuesday. There are four confirmed cases in Korea.

The Korean government also will deliver medical equipment to China, as well as 2 million face masks, 100,000 pieces of protective gear and 100,000 pairs of goggles through the chartered planes.

Lee said that Seoul is in discussions with the Chinese government on ways to further provide support amid the outbreak.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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