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S. Korea to airlift more nationals from virus-hit Iraq next week


South Korea will airlift more Korean workers next week from Iraq where new coronavirus infection cases are spiking, the prime minister said Friday as the country is on alert over imported virus cases from the Arab country.

South Korea has confirmed 34 infection cases among the about 100 Korean construction workers who returned from Iraq on a chartered flight earlier this week.

Health authorities warned that infection cases from the group could rise further, given COVID-19's incubation period, and voiced transmission concerns over hundreds of Koreans currently working at construction sites in the Middle Eastern country.

according to data from the World Health Organization, Iraq reported more than 2,000 new infections Thursday. The country's total caseload reached 83,867 on the day, with 3,432 deaths.

"To help these (Korean construction workers) promptly return home (from Iraq), the government decided to airlift them as early as next week and onward," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a regular government COVID-19 response meeting.

"Some of the Korean workers in Iraq returned home on a chartered flight, but there are still 800 in the country," he noted, instructing officials from the land and foreign ministries to take charge of the repatriation mission.

The government said it plans to send chartered flights to Iraq between Wednesday and Saturday next week to bring the workers home safely. So far, some 200 workers have requested to be airlifted, it added.

Under South Korea's anti-virus rules, the workers will be put under quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.

The decision came as South Korea is on alert over the continuing flow of cases from outside of the country, especially Iraq.

On Friday, South Korea added 60 new daily infection cases, 39 of which were found among those arriving from overseas. It was the 22nd consecutive day that imported infection cases have been in double-digit numbers.

"Many of the infection cases confirmed recently (in South Korea) stem from workers who returned home after working in construction sites in Iraq, operated by Korean companies," Chung said. (Yonhap)