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Moon asks for calm, vows air-tight quarantine

First batch of evacuees set to arrive early Friday morning

President Moon Jae-in speaks at the coronavirus response meeting at the government complex in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in speaks at the coronavirus response meeting at the government complex in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap

President Moon Jae-in on Thursday asked for public trust in the government’s efforts to contain the new coronavirus, pledging secure management of facilities housing Koreans returning from China’s Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak.

Speaking at a meeting to assess the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which included an evacuation plan of South Korean nationals from the Chinese city, Moon called on ministries to deal sternly with “fake news” inciting public fear.

“The government will manage the temporary housing facilities (for those returning from Wuhan) without cracks to ensure that the local residents do not worry,” Moon said.

The first batch of evacuees were set to arrive here on early Friday morning.

Since the government announced that they will be housed in government facilities in Asan, South Chungcheong Province and Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, local residents have protested strongly, with some assaulting government officials who visited the area Wednesday.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, those boarding the plane would have been tested by Chinese authorities for symptoms and they will again be tested by Korean authorities once they come back here.

Anyone who shows symptoms will not be allowed to leave China.

Those showing any related symptoms during the checkup upon their return to Korea will immediately be isolated, and others will be moved directly to the quarantine facilities. Once in quarantine, the people will be housed in separate rooms equipped with individual bathroom facilities.

During their stay at the facilities -- 14 days if no symptoms develop -- they will be checked by medical staff twice a day and will not be allowed any contact with the outside. Individuals housed at the facilities will also be required to wear N95 masks when outside their rooms.

At the meeting, Moon added that no Korean in Wuhan has been confirmed so far to have been infected by the virus or shown any symptoms, adding that anyone displaying symptoms will not be brought back on the chartered flights as agreed with the Chinese government.

“After returning, they will stay in facilities isolated from the outside for a designated period. The measures are to ensure not only the safety of the returning citizens, but also to prevent (the virus) from entering the local community through complete isolation,” Moon said.

Moon also called for measures against fake news and urged the government to inform the public transparently.

“Creating and spreading fake news that fans distrust and anxiety is a serious crime that hampers preventative measures, and safety of the people,” Moon said, adding that concerned ministries should deal “sternly” with rumors and fake news that exceed the boundaries of freedom of expression.

“The weapon that can protect us against the new coronavirus is not fear and hatred but trust and cooperation,” Moon said, in apparent response to developments such as rising calls to prohibit Chinese nationals from entering the country.

As for plans to send chartered flights to Wuhan, Seoul was in the final stages of negotiations with Beijing, with the first flight set to take off Thursday evening.

According to Seoul’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha, Beijing informed Seoul that it will initially approve one chartered flight, forcing Seoul to change its plans.

Seoul had planned to send four flights to Wuhan to bring back 720 Koreans. Following China’s decision, Seoul changed the plans to seat about half of those wishing to return to Korea in the first flight, instead of sending four flights over the course of two days.

By Choi He-suk (