About 220 South Korean tourists returned home from Israel on Tuesday on a chartered flight that the Middle Eastern nation arranged for them over concerns about the new coronavirus.
They arrived at Incheon International Airport at around 9 a.m. on an El Al Israel Airlines plane. It is the first of two chartered flights the Israeli government arranged to send back about 400 South Koreans after they imposed the entry ban.
The second flight carrying some 200 other tourists is due to arrive in Incheon in the afternoon. Israel is apparently preparing a third flight for the remaining Koreans, which is expected to take off late Tuesday and arrive here Wednesday, according to a foreign ministry official.
The flights were arranged at the Israeli government's expense following a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea. As of Monday, there were a total of 893 confirmed cases, with nine deaths.
On Saturday, Israel banned entry of some 130 South Koreans who arrived in Tel Aviv on a Korean Air flight. The next day it announced an entry ban on all foreigners who have traveled to South Korea or Japan.
Fears of the coronavirus mounted in the Middle Eastern nation after a group of South Korean tourists who recently traveled to Israel were confirmed to have contracted the virus.
"We plan to assist in the return of our travelers by arranging additional flights," Seoul's foreign ministry said.
Israeli media reported earlier that as of Monday morning there were 800-900 South Korean tourists in the country.
The two flights are expected to have brought the number down to below 500.