By Song Sang-ho
South Korea is set to send a third evacuation flight to the new coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan on Tuesday night to bring back about 150 of its citizens and their Chinese spouses and immediate family members, officials said.
The chartered plane is expected to depart from Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, at around 8:45 p.m., arrive in Wuhan late at night and return to Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul on Wednesday morning.
The evacuation mission comes less than a fortnight after two flights brought back a total of 701 nationals from the city amid growing fears over the spread of the deadly virus that has sickened more than two dozens of people in South Korea.
Lee Sang-jin, deputy foreign minister for overseas Koreans and consular affairs, will lead a government rapid response team that will board the flight. The team consists of about 10 staffers, including those from the National Medical Center and state quarantine officials.
This time, the Chinese authorities have given approval for Chinese citizens' trips to South Korea aboard the third evacuation flight, though they did not allow them to board the previous two flights, along with their immediate Korean family members.
South Korea's consulate general in Wuhan has informed the Chinese evacuees of the need to prepare documents, such as marriage certificates, that would prove their relationships with Korean family members.
Upon their arrival, the evacuees are to be screened for possible infection and then be transported to temporary accommodation at a language institute of the Joint Forces Military University in Icheon, 80 kilometers south of Seoul, for 14 days, the virus' incubation period.
Amid the mounting dread of the virus that emerged in the central Chinese city in December, Seoul has been beefing up quarantine efforts, as well as its diplomacy to ensure the safety of its citizens in Wuhan and its vicinity.
About 230 of South Korean citizens and their immediate family members, including those of Chinese descent, are currently in Wuhan.
Those who have not applied to use the evacuation flight appear to have decided to stay in China due to their jobs.
South Korea also plans to use the third flight to deliver protective face masks, medical supplies and other items to the consulate general in Wuhan and citizens in the epicenter of the deadly virus.
China's state media reports said that the death toll of the virus has exceeded 1,000 in China, with the total number of confirmed cases topping 42,000.