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S. Korea to bring back citizens from Wuhan

Seoul to send supplies to aid China’s fight against coronavirus

outh Korean nationals in Wuhan, China, will be flown back to the country on four chartered flights this week as part of Seoul’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“About 700 Koreans in Wuhan have expressed hopes to return, and chartered planes will be sent on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31,” Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lee Tae-ho said Tuesday.

He added that the dates of the flights may be changed, depending on the ongoing negotiations with Beijing.

Lee said the decision was made in light of medical facilities in the Chinese city reaching saturation point and Beijing’s decision to shut down flights out of the city.

President Moon Jae-in is briefed by National Medical Center officials on the measures for the coronavirus outbreak at the National Medical Center in Seoul on Tuesday. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in is briefed by National Medical Center officials on the measures for the coronavirus outbreak at the National Medical Center in Seoul on Tuesday. Yonhap

Koreans returning on the flights will be quarantined as a preemptive measure against the virus spreading in Korea. The facilities to be used have not been determined yet, and the government is considering using training facilities for civil servants.

Lee also revealed that the planes will carry supplies including 2 million masks, 100,000 anti-contamination suits and goggles to be delivered to the Chinese authorities.

According to the Foreign Ministry, over 700 Koreans in the city have applied for the chartered flights. Once back in Korea, the passengers will be quarantined for 14 days before being allowed into the general population.

The chartered flights are open only to Korean nationals. Chinese nationals who are family members of Korean nationals and anyone showing symptoms similar to coronavirus infection will not be allowed to board. The symptoms include a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius, vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing. Those displaying relevant symptoms are to be quarantined by the Chinese authorities.

Seoul’s presidential office and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also stepping up measures to contain the virus.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, a meeting will be held on a daily basis to monitor the situation, while the KCDC will look into all 3,023 individuals who arrived in Korea from Wuhan between Jan. 13 and Thursday. The individuals will be monitored and anyone showing symptoms will be quarantined for 14 days.

Koreans account for just over a third of such individuals, standing at 1,166. Most of the remaining 1,857 are Chinese nationals.

President Moon Jae-in has also stressed the need for a pan-governmental effort to contain the virus during a visit to the National Medical Center in Seoul.

“On the government level, preemptive measures must be executed strongly and rapidly, to be seen as being almost too much,” Moon said.

“Measures to prevent secondary infections, such as quarantining those with confirmed symptoms or testing all those who passed the airport (immigration) without showing symptoms, should be rolled out, and such measures should be revealed transparently to the public.”

Cheong Wa Dae also said that Moon called on the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure that its hotline (1339) has the resources to handle the calls, as the number of calls is expected to increase.

At a meeting of concerned ministries, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called on concerned government organizations to ensure that no mistakes are made in dealing with the situation.

Chung also asked the ministries to deal sternly with groundless rumors regarding the situation, and ordered the health authorities to hold two daily briefings to ensure that the public is properly informed.

The Ministry of the Interior and Safety on Tuesday began operating a central response support center, which will work with concerned ministries and local governments in providing support measures.

The Ministry of Interior said that a pan-governmental support team will be established to deal with Korean nationals returning from Wuhan.

The support team will be responsible for handling transportation of returning Koreans and operating the quarantine facilities. The Ministry of Interior also mentioned plans for segregating returning Koreans depending on whether they display any symptoms.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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