Staff Sgt. Lamaar Melvin from the 51st Medical Operations Squadron administers a coronavirus test at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Staff Sgt. Lamaar Melvin from the 51st Medical Operations Squadron administers a coronavirus test at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Matthew Keeler/Stars and Stripes)

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned a lockdown may be necessary as 266 new coronavirus cases were reported Monday, a sharp drop from the previous day but the 11th consecutive day the number was in triple digits.

Meanwhile, six more American service members tested positive after flying to South Korea from the United States, the military said Monday, raising its total to 166 since the pandemic took hold on the divided peninsula in late February.

Four of the infected troops arrived at Osan Air Base on government-chartered flights on Aug. 10 and Aug. 19, while two arrived at Incheon International Airport on commercial flights on Aug. 12 and 21, U.S. Forces Korea said in a press release.

The command said the new cases posed no threat to the broader community because they were contained in a strict testing and two-week quarantine process that begins as soon as the plane lands.

“None of the new arrivals have interacted with anyone residing within USFK installations or the local community,” it said.

Two of the individuals received positive results on their first mandatory test before entering quarantine, while the other four tested positive on a second test required before people can exit quarantine, USFK said.

All six have since been transferred to isolation facilities on Camp Humphreys or Osan Air Base, it added. Any transportation or quarantine facilities used by the troops also have been thoroughly cleaned.

The military has reimposed coronavirus restrictions, including limiting access to bases and barring personnel from most recreational activities off-post as the virus has resurged in South Korea after months of relatively low numbers.

The Army has said that starting Sunday it also will require soldiers, family members and civilian personnel to have a negative coronavirus test before international travel.

South Korea, which was an early epicenter of the pandemic, has been lauded for its aggressive testing and tracing tactics that helped curb earlier outbreaks. But health authorities have struggled to maintain the efforts since the numbers have risen to triple digits for 11 consecutive days, with infections spreading rapidly from Seoul and surrounding areas.

South Korea has so far avoided mandatory lockdowns such as those imposed in the United States and other countries. The government has shut many public facilities and urged people to wear masks and stay home as much as possible, but it has stopped short of making those measures mandatory.

Moon pleaded with South Koreans to follow the current guidelines and to wear face masks in public.

“Nowhere is a safety zone now,” Moon said during a meeting with senior aides. “If we fail to prevent the virus from spreading at this stage, we will have to elevate the social distancing guidelines.”

That would mean daily lives coming to a halt, with many jobs lost and a “huge economic blow,” he added.

The 266 cases reported Monday was a decline from the 397 confirmed on Sunday, but it still marked the 11th consecutive day that the daily count was in triple digits.

South Korea has confirmed a total of 17,655 cases, with 309 deaths, since the virus first emerged in China last year and began its global spread.

14,210 patients have fully recovered and been released, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twitter: @kimgamel

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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