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South Korea will close cemeteries to many visitors to curb coronavirus during major holiday

The graves of two South Korean brothers who died while fighting in the Korean War are pictured in 206 at the National Cemetery in Seoul.

KIM GAMEL/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 21, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will restrict access to cemeteries to curb the spread of the coronavirus during a major upcoming holiday in which people traditionally honor ancestors, officials said Monday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 70 new confirmed cases, including 55 that were locally transmitted and 15 that were imported, raising the total to 23,045 since the pandemic took hold in the country in January. Monday was the second day the nation’s daily toll fell below 100 new cases since the latest outbreak began on Aug. 14.

That was a sharp decline from weeks of triple digit daily figures that peaked at 441 in late August after a new outbreak began in Seoul and surrounding areas. The death toll rose by two to 385, according to the KDCA.

Three American troops and three other people affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea also tested positive after flying to the peninsula from the United States, the military said Monday.

USFK has insisted cases within its ranks don’t threaten the general population because they are contained within a strict testing and two-week quarantine system that begins as soon as the plane lands.

While health authorities welcomed the overall decline in numbers, they expressed concern about continued cluster infections and fears of a new outbreak in connection with Chuseok, a holiday similar to Thanksgiving that begins on Sept. 30.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, the KDCA’s director-general, appealed to South Koreans to stay home this year instead of fanning out across the nation to visit family for elaborate feasts.

“A massive migration of people will surely cause another wave of the pandemic,” she said during a regular briefing. “If people reduce their travels, we will be able to curb the spread of the virus.”

The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs also announced that 11 national cemeteries will be closed to most visitors during the Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 holiday period, although previously scheduled funerals will be held.

The ministry urged people to honor their ancestors with online memorials via cemetery websites instead of personal visits.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, continued to see cases arriving from the United States despite a new Army rule that soldiers must test negative on a coronavirus test before boarding international flights.

Two service members arrived at Osan Air Base on U.S. government-chartered flights on Sept. 4 and Sept. 7, USFK said in a press release.

Another service member, a Defense Department civilian employee and two dependents arrived at Incheon International Airport on commercial flights on Sept. 13, Sept. 15 and Sept. 17, it added.

Four of them tested positive on the initial test required before entering quarantine, while the other two received positive results in the mandatory exit test, USFK said.

In all, the command has reported 193 cases, most of them troops who traveled to the divided peninsula for new assignments or returning from trips abroad.

The number was down one after USFK said a local contractor who worked at Osan Air Base and tested positive didn’t possess unlimited or unescorted access to U.S. installations.

“USFK has not had an internal positive COVID-19 case since mid-April,” it said, referring to the respiratory disease that’s caused by the virus.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

chang.kyong@stripes.com