Chinese family members allowed on latest virus evacuation flight to South Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea on Wednesday welcomed a third chartered flight dispatched to evacuate South Korean citizens, and, for the first time, their Chinese spouses and immediate family members, from the virus-hit city of Wuhan.

On Tuesday night, the same aircraft carried 16 Chinese nationals who wished to return to their homes in Hubei province, including at least one woman who had been diagnosed with the virus but recovered, Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea has confirmed 28 cases of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,100 people in China, spread to more than two dozen countries, and caused widespread economic disruption.

At the end of January, South Korea sent two charter flights to evacuate hundreds of its citizens from Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak.

China’s lockdown of Wuhan had for a time blocked Chinese spouses or family members of South Korean citizens from evacuating, forcing some families to make difficult decisions about leaving.

According to South Korea’s foreign ministry, Wednesday’s flight carried 147 people, including 67 Chinese nationals.

Officials had expected to evacuate around 170 people, but several were unable to board for a variety of reasons, including a lack of transportation to the airport, a change of heart, and in some cases a lack of passports or other necessary documents, the foreign ministry said.

At least one of evacuees was showing symptoms of the virus, officials said.

The new arrivals will be screened for infection before spending the next two weeks in quarantine at a government language institute south of Seoul.

Reporting by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha. Editing by Gerry Doyle