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Seoul to limit Wuhan chartered flight to asymptomatic Koreans

Seoul to continue working with Beijing to ensure safety of Koreans

Medical staff in full protective gear enter a special quarantine ward for patients with symptoms of coronavirus at the National Medical Center in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Medical staff in full protective gear enter a special quarantine ward for patients with symptoms of coronavirus at the National Medical Center in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The chartered flight for taking South Koreans out of Wuhan, China will be limited to those without any related symptoms, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Wednesday.

The decision directly contradicts Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo’s statement earlier in the day. 

According to the Health Ministry, the four chartered flights out of Wuhan will be limited to those without symptoms, in line with Chinese authorities’ decision.

A Health Ministry official said that Seoul will abide by China’s regulations, but that the government will continue to negotiate on matters regarding the safety of Koreans in China.

“We have held many discussions on the matter with the Chinese authorities, and continue to negotiate,” a Health Ministry official said.

“Respecting Chinese authorities’ position is the correct thing to do, and (the government) will continue to develop measures to protect Koreans who will remain (in the Wuhan area).”

The official said that as far as the ministry is aware, there aren’t any Koreans in the area who have been identified as having symptoms. 


Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip briefs the media about the quarantine plans on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip briefs the media about the quarantine plans on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Speaking at a meeting with associations of medical professionals earlier in the day, Park said all Koreans who apply to return on flights chartered by the South Korean government will be brought back to the country.

“Those showing symptoms will be carried on a separate flight, or segregated in the planes being sent,” on Wednesday. Park also said that all passengers will be seated to minimize direct and indirect contact with each other regardless of symptoms.

“In Korea, (the passengers) will be checked for their temperature, and those showing symptoms will be sent to isolation wards, and those who do not will be quarantined for two weeks.”

Park said that medical staff will be at hand around the clock at the quarantine facility, and anyone showing symptoms will immediately be sent to designated medical facilities.

According to the Health Ministry, Park’s comments regarding Koreans showing symptoms reflects the government’s commitment to help South Koreans.

Seoul is currently working with Beijing to finalize the schedule for the chartered flights to bring back 720 Koreans from Wuhan.

According to reports, the first of the four flights is set to take off at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The flight will carry a government response team headed by Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lee Tae-ho. The team will also include medical staff from the National Medical Center, and quarantine officials from the Incheon Airport and other support staff.

Under the plans, the first flight will take off from Incheon Airport, followed shortly by the second flight. The two flights will return to Korea at Gimpo International Airport, from where the individuals brought back from Wuhan will be sent to quarantine facilities.

Friday will also see two flights -- taking off and returning to Gimpo International Airport -- of chartered planes for bringing back Korean nationals.

The schedule of the flights, however, is open to changes. According to the South Korean consulate in Wuhan, the schedule of the charter flights has not been finalized, and may be delayed depending on talks between Seoul and Beijing.

As for the quarantine facility, a police training facility in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, and civil service training facilities in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, will house those returning from Wuhan.

The Health Ministry said that a number of factors such as capacity, availability of rooms to house one person per room with individual bathroom facilities, and distance from population centers were considered in choosing the two locations.

Asymptomatic individuals will be housed at the facilities for 14 days, after which they will be allowed to enter the general population if no symptoms develop.

Residents of Asan and Jincheon are strongly protesting the reported plans, with some residents talking of forming a blockade.

There have been four confirmed cases in Korea so far. Including the four confirmed cases, 187 individuals have shown symptoms associated with the virus. Of these, 155 have tested negative, and 28 are awaiting results.

The number of confirmed cases of infections continue to rise globally, with the figure in China alone nearly 6,000.

According to Chinese health authorities, the number of confirmed cases stood at 5,974, and the number of deaths was 132 as of midnight Wednesday, rising rapidly from a day earlier. The number of confirmed cases and deaths in China stood at 4,515 and 106, respectively, Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Japanese authorities confirmed the first case of coronavirus infection that occurred within its borders. According to Japanese health authorities, a bus driver in his 60s, who had not visited Wuhan, was confirmed to be infected with the virus.

The individual is reported to have transported Chinese tourists from Wuhan over long distances between Jan. 8 and Jan. 16.

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