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Seven US troops test positive for coronavirus after arriving in South Korea

Passengers exit a Patriot Express flight at Osan Air Base, South Korea, June 10, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 8, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea — Seven U.S. service members tested positive for the coronavirus after traveling from the United States to South Korea in recent weeks, the military said Wednesday, raising its total number of cases to 54.

The announcement reflects the delicate balance faced by U.S. Forces Korea as it seeks to prevent the virus’ spread while continuing to bring new personnel to the divided peninsula.

All arrivals from abroad must undergo rigid testing and quarantine procedures aimed at containing any new cases.

“Since testing positive, all of the service members have been moved to an isolation facility designated for confirmed COVID-19 cases on Camp Humphreys or Osan Air Base,” USFK said in a statement, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Two of the service members initially tested negative upon arrival last month but then received positive results in the second test required before exiting the mandatory two-week quarantine, USFK said.

One of them arrived on June 21 at Incheon International Airport on a commercial flight, while the other arrived on June 24 at Osan Air Base via a government-chartered flight known as the Patriot Express.

Three others received positive results on their initial tests after arriving at Incheon on commercial flights on July 2, Monday and Wednesday, respectively, the command said.

Two tested positive soon after landing at Osan on the Patriot Express on Saturday, it added.

With the new cases, USFK said it has 14 active-duty troops isolated with the respiratory virus as most of the other patients have recovered.

Health authorities determined limited contact tracing was needed since all passengers on the flights had to be tested and quarantined for two weeks. The quarantine rooms occupied before the patients were transferred to the isolation unit were thoroughly cleaned, USFK said.

More than half of the cases reported by the command — 30 — have been overseas arrivals. Only 24 people affiliated with USFK were confirmed to be infected locally — the most recent on April 14.

“USFK continues to maintain a robust combined defense posture to protect [South Korea] against any threat or adversary while maintaining prudent preventive measures to protect the force,” it said.

The military eased anti-coronavirus restrictions for most bases on the divided peninsula in May after months of near lock-down as South Korea struggled with the pandemic.

The South has largely flattened the number of new cases daily, although it continues to suffer from cluster outbreaks and imported infections. Meanwhile, the virus continues to surge in the United States.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel