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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Pacific Command officials Tuesday clarified a policy released last week concerning travel restrictions to China and Hong Kong because of SARS, a deadly pneumonia-like flu spreading across Asia.

All official travel to China or Hong Kong — by servicemembers or Defense Department civilians — is forbidden unless approved by a two-star general at Pacific Command, said Lt. Cmdr. Jensin Sommer, PACOM spokeswoman in Hawaii.

Unofficial travel, like vacation, by servicemembers also is prohibited.

Civilians — including family members, contractors and Department of Defense Dependents School employees — are encouraged to follow the travel advisory, although the military cannot force them to comply, Sommer said.

SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — has infected more than 2,600 and killed 103 people, mostly in southeast Asia, according to the World Heath Organization.

The military community also is urged to avoid Vietnam and Singapore, as both of those countries are affected by SARS, but no travel restriction has been issued, Sommer said.

“This travel limitation is temporary and we are continuing to monitor the situation,” she said. “We update it and adjust it as necessary. We know it’s temporary.”

Sommer said SARS poses the same threat as diseases such as tuberculosis or the flu. “This is obviously a force protection issue,” she said. “The limitation was implemented in order to better protect the health of our servicemembers.”

Servicemembers stationed in South Korea who do travel in Southeast Asia are required to call Yongsan Garrison’s preventive services directorate at 736-3025, said Army Lt. Col. Lee Hee-choon, physician and chief of clinical preventive medicine at Yongsan’s 18th Medical Command.

It’s recommended — but not mandatory — that civilians, family members and contractors also call after returning, said Lee.

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