‘No exceptions’: USFK commander enters quarantine after returning to South Korea from US
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 16, 2020
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SEOUL, South Korea — Declaring “no exceptions” to policy, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea tested negative for the coronavirus and began a two-week quarantine Friday after returning to South Korea from the United States.
USFK also announced Friday that it will lower the military’s health protection risk level nationwide to Bravo, signifying a lower, moderate risk for infection, as South Korea’s daily number of cases dipped below 50.
The change will go into effect at 4 p.m. Monday.
Gen. Robert Abrams posted a photo of himself on Twitter, saying his quarantine was an example of the military’s adherence to a strict testing and quarantine policy aimed at preventing the spread of the respiratory virus from abroad.
“And so it begins … Day 0 quarantine,” he wrote. “No exceptions, even for 4*. This is one of many reasons we have the lowest incident rate in (the Defense Department).”
The command has reported 227 coronavirus cases since an initial outbreak began in South Korea in late February, but only 26 of those were contracted locally. The others were mainly troops who tested positive after arriving in the South from the United States.
Abrams said his initial test was negative, but he will take a second test at Day 12 as required before exiting quarantine.
“To be clear, I am just following the same protocol that everyone coming from CONUS (the continental United States) must follow when they arrive in Korea,” he added.
The new health protection designation means military personnel may go to Seoul and surrounding areas, which had remained largely off-limits due to a high number of cases even as USFK eased restrictions elsewhere.
Bars, clubs and other adults-only establishments are still banned, according to a press release. It also said the military community must continue to adhere to basic prevention measures such as maintaining safe distances from other people and always wearing face masks in public when off-base.
Masks are required in stores and other crowded facilities on bases but not in open areas. However, the command has made masks mandatory off the installations to conform with local government rules and etiquette.
“While USFK is adjusting its health protection condition peninsula-wide, it is not lowering its guard,” the command said, warning it would “immediately snap back to a heightened HPCON posture without hesitation” if there’s a resurgence of the virus.
The military stressed it was following South Korea’s lead since the government also has eased restrictions to the lowest level.
South Korea has cautiously welcomed a decline in the caseload nationwide after a second outbreak began in Seoul and surrounding areas in mid-August, although the numbers have fluctuated.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 47 new cases on Friday, down from 110 the previous day, for a total of 25,035, with 441 deaths.