Chartered flights for the planned evacuation of South Korean nationals from the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan have been put off till at least later in the evening, a foreign ministry official said Thursday.
Two Korean Air planes were scheduled to take off at 10 a.m. and at noon, respectively, to bring home about 700 South Koreans from the epicenter of the new virus outbreak. The planes were set to conduct the same mission Friday.
"There has been a change of schedule for chartered flights that were going to operate, and we have sent an urgent message to our citizens who were supposed to board the planes," a foreign ministry official said.
The official did not give details about the reason for the delay.
"We are consulting with the Chinese government to make sure that our citizens staying in Wuhan can return home as soon as possible according to the changed schedule," the official said.
The South Koreans consulate general in Wuhan notified the Koreans of the change of the flight schedule at about 1 a.m. (local time) and asked them to wait until further notice.
The official stressed that the chartered flight will depart later Thursday but indicated a possibility that only one of the two planes could fly on the day due to the delay.
The Korean residents in Wuhan had been told to gather at the airport about five hours before the initial flight schedule.
South Korean officials have been in consultations with China on logistical details regarding the emergency transfer of its citizens.
On Tuesday, Seoul announced the plan to airlift its nationals out of Wuhan, after Beijing placed the city under lockdown, suspending flights and transportation there and in its surrounding regions amid the fast spread of the disease.
The government said the evacuated people will be put into isolation at two different public facilities in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, and Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, in the country's central region.
Of about 700 people who have applied for the transfer, those with no symptoms will be transported first, and they will be subject to a quarantine check right before and after the flights, and will stay at the facilities for at least 14 days, officials said.