The U.S. Forces Korea has confirmed that one of the family members of its serviceman living in Daegu tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Monday. That marked the first case among people related to the American military stationed here.
"South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed United States Forces Korea today that a USFK dependent living in Daegu tested positive for COVID-19, making this the first time a USFK-related individual has tested positive for the virus," the command said Monday. "The patient, a 61-year-old USFK widowed dependent residing in the southeastern city of Daegu, visited Camp Walker's Post Exchange from Feb. 12-15."
The KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed, it added.
USFK encourages all personnel to continue to practice strict proper hygiene procedures as the best way to prevent the spread of viruses and protect the USFK population. Due to the first confirmed case, USFK has raised the risk level to "high" for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force, the command added.
Under the new measure, USFK plans to impose a stricter process for entering its base, such as limiting non-mission essential in-person meetings, gatherings, and temporary duty travel and assignments, and limiting off-installation travel.
The command also said that visitors and soldiers should expect longer wait times at gates to access installations due to possible temperature checks and screening questionnaires.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Korea, the U.S. and Korea are also considering scaling back the combined military exercises between the two nations reflecting concerns over the new coronavirus.
"U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams and South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki are looking at scaling back the command post training due to concerns about the coronavirus," U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a joint news conference with his Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo.
In Seoul, the USFK denied local reports that the USFK had first proposed postponing the joint exercise to Korea.
"A recent media article reporting the U.S. side proposing the postponement of future combined training is inaccurate," the USFK said. "Any decision regarding combined training will be a U.S.-ROK alliance decision, and not a unilateral decision."
In a related development, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the highest type of travel health notice for South Korea on Monday.
"The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea," the agency said. "There is a widespread, ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus that can be spread from person to person, while older adults and people with chronic medical conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease."
In Korea, the number of COVID-19 patients reached 977 on Tuesday, as the government moved to virtually blockade two local epicenters - the southwestern city of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.
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