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Seoul pushes to include symptomatic Koreans on chartered flight out of Wuhan

Seoul plans to bring back South Koreans based in Wuhan, China, regardless of whether they show symptoms associated with the new coronavirus infection, the health minister said Wednesday.

Speaking at a meeting with associations of medical professionals, Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said that all Koreans who apply to return on flights chartered by the South Korean government will be brought back to the country. 

Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo speaks at a meeting of government response group on Wednesday. Yonhap
Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo speaks at a meeting of government response group on Wednesday. Yonhap

“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, and the matter is being discussed with the Chinese authorities.

Seoul is currently working with Beijing to finalize the schedule for the chartered flights to bring back some 700 South 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 International Airport and other support staff.

Under the plans, the first flight will take off from Incheon International Airport, followed shortly by the second flight. The two flights will return to Korea at the 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, the government is said to be considering using police and civil service training facilities in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, and Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, to house those returning from Wuhan.

Although facilities in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, were initially considered, the government has reportedly revised its plans following protests from the city.

The residents of Asan and Jincheon are also 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, a total of 187 individuals have shown symptoms associated with the virus. Of these, 155 have tested negative, and 28 are currently being tested.

While Korea has yet to report additional confirmed cases, the global figure continues to grow.

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

According to the 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 on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Japanese authorities confirmed the first case of coronavirus infection that occurred within its borders. According to the Japanese health authorities, a male bus driver in his 60s, who has 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 (