The government is in a bind as no city wants to accept about 700 Korean evacuees whom it plans to charter out of Wuhan, China.
On Tuesday, the government unveiled its plans to charter four flights to evacuate the Korean nationals from Wuhan, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak, and its surrounding areas.
The health authorities previously said that they plan to quarantine them at a government facility and release them only after they test negative for the virus. Later, they hinted at the possibility of the evacuees being quarantined at government facilities in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.
However, the suggestion sparked an immediate uproar from the Cheonan citizens. "Why did the officials choose Cheonan. We did nothing wrong to suffer such a disadvantage," a netizen claiming to be Cheonan citizen wrote online. "It is a silly decision to quarantine the evacuees in one of the big cities in South Chungcheong Province, which has a population of 650,000."
The two facilities that the government initially planned to use were located near the Cheonan Station and close to an elementary and high school. Some residents claimed that the government decided to quarantine the patients in their city because they have no mayor. The mayoral seat for the city has been vacant for more than two months after the former mayor, Gu Bon-young, lost his post for violating political funding law.
Faced with fierce resistance, the government on Wednesday changed the site other cities in the midland -- Jincheon in North Chungcheong Province and Asan in South Chungcheong Province.
"In consideration of national anxiety, the government has decided to allocate the evacuees as far away from urban areas as possible," a Ministry of Interior and Safety official said. "The evacuees will all live together in the facility until the incubation period (14 days) passes."
The official stressed that they did not consult with local citizens as there was not enough time to have a formal consultation. The two government-included sequestration facilities are the educational facilities of civil servants.
However, such a decision was met with similar backlashes from the residents of the two cities.
Residents reportedly have already set up roadblocks near the two institutions that the government said that it would be quarantining the evacuees.
An expert stressed that there is no reason to panic, however.
"The basic principle of quarantine is to prevent infection in the facility," said Professor Lee Jae-gap of the Department of Infectious Disease at Kangnam Hallym University Medical Center, in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review. "The purpose of facility quarantine is to identify quickly those who have developed symptoms and send them to a hospital for treatment."
If should patients are found within the facility, officials will relocate them as soon as possible so that they do not spread the disease to other people, Lee added.
Professor Lee also stressed that while he does not believe quarantine for the Wuhan evacuees is necessary, such a procedure may be needed to help ease the anxiety of the public.
"Bringing back Koreans in Wuhan to their homeland is necessary to take care of our people. It is natural for a country to help its citizens in crisis and bring them out if they are in trouble,” Lee said. “I believe that the evacuees themselves will not want to be quarantined for two weeks. All this is a compromise to minimize people's anxiety.”
Lee stressed that the health authorities have only to monitor their symptoms by isolating them at home.
"If these facilities are properly sequestered in a way that ensures maximum safety, the public will be less anxious," he added.