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Seoul evacuates 293 nationals from Iraq

The Air Force`s KC-330 carrying South Korean nationals from Iraq arrived at Incheon International Airport on Friday. (Yonhap)
The Air Force`s KC-330 carrying South Korean nationals from Iraq arrived at Incheon International Airport on Friday. (Yonhap)

Two South Korean military planes carrying 293 Korean nationals from Iraq arrived back home Friday morning, amid the severe novel coronavirus outbreak in the Middle Eastern country.

Departing from Baghdad, two KC-330s planes arrived at Incheon Airport at around 10:20 a.m., two hours later than the scheduled arrival time due to quarantine procedures and fueling, according to a Defense Ministry official. Of the passengers, 86 said they had COVID-19 symptoms.

Health authorities said those confirmed with COVID-19 were not allowed to board the plane. Passengers who reported symptoms were seated in a separate section from asymptomatic passengers.

Upon arrival, those with potential symptoms underwent COVID-19 tests at the airport. Those without symptoms were transferred to government-designated temporary accommodations, where they will later be tested.

Travelers who test positive will be sent to medical facilities, while others with negative results will stay at designated facilities for two weeks, the length of the virus’s incubation period.

Seoul decided to dispatch the military planes for the Korean nationals, mostly workers at construction projects in Karbala, central Iraq, as the country has seen a rapid spike in cases. Iraq recently reported more than 2,000 new infections daily, putting the total affected at 102,226 and 4,122 deaths as of Friday.

On Wednesday (Iraq time), one Korean worker in Iraq died from COVID-19 while under treatment, according to the Foreign Ministry. Three Korean construction workers have died of COVID-19 in the country.

Many of the recent imported COVID-19 cases here have come from Iraq, raising the alert of health officials. Earlier this month, some 100 Korean workers were evacuated on a charter flight from Iraq.

Korea on Friday reported 41 new cases, raising the total caseload to 13,979, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with no immediate signs of a letup. 

Since February, the Korean government has carried out evacuation missions from seven countries, including Wuhan, China -- the initial epicenter of the outbreak -- Japan, Iran, Peru, Italy, Ethiopia and Iraq, repatriating around 2,000 people.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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