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S. Koreans stranded in Peru to be evacuated this week

By Ahn Sung-mi

Published : March 23, 2020 - 16:06

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South Korean Embassy in Peru arranged busses to bring South Korean nationals from other cities in the country to the capital, Lima, where a charter flight to Korea is set to depart. (Yonhap) South Korean Embassy in Peru arranged busses to bring South Korean nationals from other cities in the country to the capital, Lima, where a charter flight to Korea is set to depart. (Yonhap)

Around 200 South Korean nationals stranded in Peru after the country sealed its borders and halted all flights amid the global coronavirus pandemic will be able to return home on a charter flight this week.

The flight, operated by Mexican airline Aeromexico, is set to take off from Lima on Thursday afternoon and arrive at Incheon International Airport, according to the Korean Embassy in Peru on Monday.

The total number of passengers has yet to be confirmed but is estimated to be around 200. The evacuees will include tourists, residents and volunteers from the Korea International Cooperation Agency who have been stuck in the South American country since last week, when the government abruptly closed its borders, providing little warning for foreign tourists. Peru also enacted a 15-day mandatory quarantine, banning all travel within the country.

Following diplomatic consultations, Peru allowed Korean nationals to travel in order to leave the country. Of the people to be evacuated, some 90 are in the highlands city of Cusco, about 1,000 kilometers away from the capital, Lima. The Korean Embassy has arranged a domestic flight between Cusco and Lima, as well as seven buses to transport Korean nationals from other cities in Peru.

The passengers are required to pay the 3.7 million won ($2,890) airfare from Lima to Incheon, and those flying in from Cusco must pay an additional $400.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, a growing number of Korean nationals have found themselves trapped in countries that have tightened restrictions, and have called on the Seoul government for help. More citizens are also seeking to return home as they feel safer in Korea, which has made some progress in curbing the spread of the disease.

The government is also planning to send two charter flights to evacuate around 650 citizens from Italy next week, where more than 5,400 people have died of COVID-19. The coronavirus death toll in Italy exceeds that of China, where the virus originated last year.

Initially, Seoul wasn’t planning an evacuation mission in Italy, stressing that a government flight is the “last resort” when all other forms of transportation are shut down. But when the coronavirus crisis worsened and it became difficult for Koreans in Italy to arrange a charter flight on their own, the government decided to help.

So far, Korea has sent government charter flights to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, as well as Iran and the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan.

But the increasing number of government airlift operations is causing public concern as the number of imported cases is on the rise here, adding to the burden of Korea’s fight against COVID-19.

The number of cases from overseas has increased rapidly recently, especially among those from Europe and the US. Of the 8,961 COVID-19 cases reported here as of Monday, 144 were imported from abroad, and 84 came from Europe. The majority of imported COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the past two weeks after a spike in infections around the world.

Some have also raised concerns about the use of tax money to repatriate Korean nationals residing in other countries. Even though the charter flight passengers pay airfare, it is not enough to cover the full cost of hiring a flight crew and sending a plane, and the government must pay a considerable amount. 

A petition calling for a ban on the mass entry of Korean nationals from Italy had garnered 22,994 signatures as of Monday afternoon.


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