(ATTN: ADDS novel conronavirus test conducted on second group of evacuees in last 7 paras)
SEOUL, Feb. 15 (Yonhap) -- The first group of 366 South Koreans evacuated from Wuhan, China, has been released after two weeks of quarantine with all testing negative for the novel coronavirus, the public health agency said Saturday.
The evacuees arrived in the country on Jan. 31, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. They were airlifted out of the central Chinese city that is thought to be the epicenter of the viral outbreak on a special chartered flight.
Since the first case of the virus was reported in the country on Jan. 21, Seoul confirmed 28 cases, with seven people who were infected being released from hospitals after making full recoveries. Others being treated are also in stable condition with none being seriously ill.
Of the total, 193 evacuees had been kept in isolation in Asan, 90 kilometers south of Seoul, and 173 stayed in Jincheon, 91 kilometers southeast of the capital. All were discouraged from meeting others in the facilities for fear of person-to-person transmission with no outside visitors allowed.
The KCDC said that they had been carefully monitored by medical personnel around the clock with the final tests carried out on all evacuees turning up negative for the COVID-19 virus.
Of the 701 people airlifted in the first two flights, only two were infected, with none of the 147 people brought back this week on the third chartered flight testing positive for the illness so far.
The KCDC said that as a precautionary measure, all evacuees have been told to carefully check themselves for signs of illness and report any developments to medical authorities. They are to be issued a medical certificate saying they have been checked for the virus and will be contacted 2-3 times per day to see how they are getting along after being released from quarantine.
The government, meanwhile, said it will release another 333 people who were flown in on Feb. 1 and a non-evacuee who has been there to take care of his two children, on Sunday as planned.
"All people in the second group have tested negative for the virus and will be released," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said.
He added that besides the evacuees, 95 government officials and medical workers who have stayed with the people from China have also been found to be uninfected.
The official said that all people leaving the quarantine facilities will be offered temporary residences and employment if they need it. They will also be eligible for counseling services so they can better adjust to normal everyday life.
"The government has provided each person with a information booklet on what kind of services they can receive from local administrations," Kim said.
The government arranged for buses to transport all evacuees to major locations near their homes or the place they want to stay.
All facilities that have been used by the evacuees will undergo extensive disinfection in the coming days with personal items left behind to be disposed of according to protocol.