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(2nd LD) S. Korea reports first coronavirus cases among service members

11:17 February 21, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with latest info; ADDS photo)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL/JEJU, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- A number of coronavirus cases were confirmed among military personnel for the first time Friday, including an Air Force officer at the Gyeryongdae military headquarters, sending officials scrambling to stop the virus from spreading further into the barracks.

Three cases were confirmed, one each in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. They are the first COVID-19 cases among service members since South Korea reported its first case last month.

The three were among a total of 52 cases newly confirmed Friday across the country.

All three service members had visited or contacted people from the southeastern city of Daegu, where the number of cases has surged sharply this week. More than half of the 156 cases confirmed so far happened in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.

The first service member case was a 22-year-old Navy sailor on the southern island of Jeju who visited his hometown, Daegu, from Feb. 13 to Tuesday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Upon returning to the base, he showed symptoms like coughing, prompting the authorities to immediately quarantine him at the base. He is now at a Jeju hospital.

A Navy sailor arrives at a hospital on South Korea's southern island of Jeju to undergo a test for the new coronavirus on Feb. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

An Army officer in the central county of Jeungpyeong, North Chungcheong Province, was also confirmed to have the virus and was transferred to a military hospital. It is the first new coronavirus case in the central province.

He met his girlfriend in Daegu during his vacation, where dozens of cases were confirmed within a couple of days. The girlfriend attends the same New World Church, or Shincheonji Church of Jesus, as the country's 31st patient, who is considered a "super spreader," officials said.

An Air Force soldier currently assigned to a unit at the military compound in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, was also confirmed to have the virus and was transferred to a military hospital earlier in the day. The route of his infection is not yet known.

As part of efforts to mitigate risks to service personnel, the defense ministry decided late Thursday to restrict all enlistees from vacationing and staying outside their base to meet visitors starting Saturday.

The military authorities also have carried out surveys of all personnel on whether they have recently visited Daegu or the surrounding regions, according to officials.

More than 5,000 service personnel are estimated to have visited the region during their vacation, according to the military's preliminary investigation.

Following the confirmations, the military authorities have checked the temperature of all personnel where the infected members serve and quarantined all those who had contact with the patients, they added.

Soldiers set up a roadblock in front of a Navy base to limit visitors on Feb. 21, 2020, in the wake of a confirmed case of the new coronavirus among its service personnel. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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