South Korea’s Moon urges calm amid protests over virus quarantine sites

“The weapons that will protect us from the new coronavirus are not fear and aversion but trust and cooperation,” Mr. Moon said in a speech, decrying “fake news” for having stirred excessive anxiety.

January 30, 2020 11:21 am | Updated 11:22 am IST - SEOUL:

South Korean President Moon Jae-in. File

South Korean President Moon Jae-in. File

President Moon Jae-in urged South Koreans not to give in to fear on Thursday, as the government prepared to evacuate the first of about 700 citizens from the epicentre of a new coronavirus epidemic in China's central city of Wuhan.

The first of up to four planned flights to Wuhan had been expected to depart on Thursday morning, but was delayed for unspecified reasons, Yonhap news agency said, although they are now expected to depart later in the day.

“The weapons that will protect us from the new coronavirus are not fear and aversion but trust and cooperation,” Mr. Moon said in a speech, decrying “fake news” for having stirred excessive anxiety.

An image of a coronavirus.

An image of a coronavirus.


Protesters had used tractors on Wednesday to block the roads to facilities earmarked for quarantine centres in the cities of Asan and Jincheon, about 80 km south of Seoul, the capital.

The government wants to isolate evacuees for at least two weeks at the facilities, usually used as training centres for government officials, to rule out any symptoms.

A handful of protesters calling for the quarantine centre to be located further away from homes and schools in Jincheon gathered outside the site on Thursday.

“I am a mother of a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old,” said Jincheon resident Lee Ji-hyun. “I was so worried I sent them to stay with my in-laws.”

Some residents said children were pulled out of kindergarten or sent to relatives in other cities.

“I dont like my friends who have travelled to Japan or China because they might be carrying the coronavirus,” said Song Ji-hoo, a 6-year-old accompanying his mother to the protest.

He was sad at not being able to play with his friends, who had all been sent to stay with their grandparents, he added.

Moon tried to reassure residents, saying the initial evacuees would only be those free of symptoms, who would be placed in isolation.

“The government will be taking air-tight steps to ensure the residents of areas where the facilities are do not need to be concerned,” he said.

South Korea has reported four cases of the newly identified virus. All had arrived from visits to Wuhan, where the virus surfaced late last year.

The new strain has an incubation time ranging from one to 14 days and can spread before symptoms show, complicating efforts to screen people at international borders.

The rapid spread of the virus has triggered alarm since scientists know little about it, including how lethal it is, and cases of milder infections are unlikely to be detected.

A liaison office operated across the border in North Korea would be closed until the outbreak eased, South Korea's unification ministry said.

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