SEOUL: A charter flight carrying 368 South Koreans from Wuhan arrived home on Friday (Jan 31) as tensions simmered around quarantine centres where they will be isolated, a plan vehemently opposed by nearby residents.
The first of up to four flights planned to evacuate South Koreans from the epicentre of a virus outbreak in China landed at the Gimpo International Airport west of Seoul around 8am (2300 GMT) after an unexpected half-day delay because China only approved one flight.
The government had said none of the evacuees had any symptoms before departure, but one person could not board the plane due to fever after a final check at Wuhan airport, while 18 were sent to hospitals immediately upon arrival, vice health minister Kim Gang-lip said.
“There were different screening standards between China and us, and we conducted another check aboard the plane and put those who were showing symptoms in separate space on the second floor of the plane,” Kim told a briefing.
“The other 350 will be sent to temporary lodging facilities where medical staff will provide daily quarantine and medical assistance for 14 days under thorough control without going out or receiving guests.”
The evacuees will be isolated at two facilities in Asan and Jincheon, cities about 80km south of capital Seoul.
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The plan triggered a strong backlash among nearby residents, with some people throwing eggs and expletives on Thursday at senior officials who visited to try to defuse their anger.
Several hundred police officers were on hand at the facilities in Asan and Jincheon.
In Asan, there was no sign of a major rally on Friday morning, but one angry protestor ripped apart a banner put up by a local civic group to welcome the evacuees.
Around 720 South Koreans have signed up for charter flights, but Seoul’s foreign ministry said they might have to reduce the number of flights to one or two.
South Korea also reported its seventh confirmed case of the coronavirus on Friday, a 28-year-old man who returned from Wuhan via the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao last week.
The outbreak has prompted North Korea to declare a state emergency, though it is unclear whether there are any confirmed cases in the isolated nation.
The two Koreas opened a new hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang after they agreed to temporarily close their joint liaison office in the North’s border city until virus concerns are eased, the South’s Unification Ministry said on Friday.
The North also informed the South via the hotline that it has decided to postpone plans to remove South Korean facilities at its Mount Kumgang resort next month to prevent a virus outbreak, the ministry said.