Residents of Jincheon and Asan in the Chungcheong region on Wednesday strongly protested the government’s plan to use facilities in the cities as quarantine wards for hundreds of South Koreans to be airlifted from the Chinese city of Wuhan amid mounting fears over a deadly coronavirus.
The government announced that those evacuated from Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, will be housed at state-run facilities in the two cities for a 14-day quarantine period.
Four charter flights are set to be sent to Wuhan on Thursday and Friday to repatriate some 700 Korean citizens trapped in the city and surrounding areas on effective lockdown. They will land at Gimpo Airport.
The county council of Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, denounced the government’s decision to accommodate Koreans from Wuhan there as “unilateral” and “ignored citizens living in North Chungcheong Province.”
“Jincheon County had never consulted with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the government about the plan to house (those flying in from Wuhan) at a human resources training facility (in Jincheon),” the council said at a press conference.
“We clearly express our objection to the government’s decision to accommodate a large number of people repatriated (from Wuhan) in North Chungcheong Province’s innovative city,” it said.
Some 300 residents gathered in front of the public servant training center, located in the innovative city created in Jincheon and Eumseong counties, expressing opposition to using the facility to accommodate the evacuees.
“It is a wrong decision to accommodate compatriots from Wuhan in the innovative city where apartment compounds and public organizations are concentrated and it should be reconsidered,” said Rep. Kyung Dae-soo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, who represents the area in his constituency.
On agricultural tractors parked in front of the facility was a placard reading “Are only Cheonan citizens Koreans, are we not?”
The government earlier considered facilities in Cheonan, the most populous city in South Chungcheong Province, but scrapped the plan in the wake of strong resistance from the residents there.
There are some 11 other public facilities in the innovative city, with a population of 25,937 as of the end of last year.
Residents of Asan, South Chungcheong Province, also strongly protested the plan.
Some 60 villagers gathered for a rally against the government’s plan, with agricultural tractors parked near the police training facility in the city in an attempt to block access to the facility.
“For sure, we should join forces to overcome the new coronavirus infection, which is a national crisis, but there should be reasonable reasons and Asan citizens’ safety should be first addressed,” said Asan Mayor Oh Sae-hyun.
Health authorities said that all Korean citizens will be brought back by the charter planes, with those who do not show symptoms of the virus infection first. They will reportedly be placed in isolation in a police training facility in Asan and public servant training facility in Jincheon for at least 14 days.
So far, South Korea has confirmed four cases of the viral disease, with the latest one reported on Monday. Among 112 people who experienced signs of the virus, 97 people have tested negative and the remaining 15 people are in isolation and awaiting test results as of Wednesday morning.
China had confirmed 5,974 people infected with the virus, including 132 deaths, as of early Wednesday, with the virus rapidly spreading to other countries including Malaysia, the US and Germany.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org