Military Travel Restrictions Eased in South Korea as Virus Cases Drop

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A U.S. Soldier taking the temperature of a motorist at one of the gates to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea, Feb. 27, 2020. (U.S. Army/Pfc. Kang, Min-jin)
A U.S. Soldier taking the temperature of a motorist at one of the gates to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea, Feb. 27, 2020. (U.S. Army/Pfc. Kang, Min-jin)

Aggressive measures adopted by the U.S. military in South Korea, in close cooperation with the Seoul government, appear to have gained the upper hand against the novel coronavirus on the peninsula, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) reported Monday.

The U.S. Army Garrison near Daegu, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea, said on Twitter, "We are winning!"

Hundreds of cases of coronavirus infection were reported last week in southeastern Daegu, a city of about 2.5 million, but just 35 on Monday, according to the garrison.

Elsewhere in South Korea, travel restrictions for the military are being eased and personnel ordered to stay at home off base are being told to check with their commands on when to report to work.

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Troops and Defense Department personnel residing in Cheonan, about 11 miles from Camp Humphreys, the main U.S. base in South Korea and about eight miles from Osan Air Base, were told to "contact their command prior to returning to work."

Travel restrictions for military personnel to Cheonan also were lifted "due to the decline in COVID-19 cases in Cheonan city," USFK reported.

On his Twitter account, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the USFK commander, said the easing of restrictions and the downward trend in new coronavirus cases provide a "clear example of how a containment strategy works" in concert with the local government.

USFK's own predictive analysis tool showed that, by March 17, the number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea would be lower than 50. "Pretty damn close already," Abrams said.

On Monday, South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported that 74 new cases of coronavirus were detected Sunday. It was the lowest number of new infections in three weeks and the second straight day that new cases had fallen to double digits, KCDC said.

On Friday, USFK said that a total of nine troops, family members, civilians and other DoD-affiliated personnel were being treated for coronavirus, and another 55 personnel suspected of possible exposure to the virus were in self-quarantine.

In a video briefing Friday from Camp Humphreys to the Pentagon, Abrams said that USFK began enforcing strict measures in January -- even before the first coronavirus cases were reported in South Korea on Feb. 2 -- to include testing, self-isolation, social distancing and travel restrictions.

"We've all embraced strict proper hygiene procedures that all of you by now have heard a hundred times. But believe me, they work," he said.

USFK is using tests provided by KCDC or through its own facility, which recently developed the capability, Abrams said.

"So far, we've tested more than 145 USFK-affiliated individuals either through the KCDC or our own capability that we've established at the Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital on Camp Humphreys on 7 March," he said.

South Korea currently has 8,236 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest total outside China, according to the KCDC. The death total in the country is 75 so far.

South Korea's response to the epidemic has contrasted with the efforts in the U.S. Testing has been widely available, including at 50 drive-through centers nationwide, and South Korea has also been using drones to disinfect areas, the Yonhap news agency reported.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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