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An exchange customer wears a mask while leaving a store at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Jan. 27, 2022.

An exchange customer wears a mask while leaving a store at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Jan. 27, 2022. (Jazzmin Spain/Stars and Stripes)

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — South Korea reached a new pandemic high of 20,270 coronavirus cases on Tuesday as the nation wrapped up the Lunar New Year holiday, three days typically marked by widespread travel on the peninsula.

Tuesday’s count was 1,928 cases higher than the previous record of 18,342 infections logged the day before, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Center. Over 6,000 cases were reported in Gyeonggi province, where Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. military base overseas, is located.

Meanwhile, U.S. Forces Korea reported 196 new COVID-19 cases for the week ending Monday, its third consecutive week of declining numbers. USFK confirmed 379 new infections the previous week and a pandemic high of 1,599 between Jan. 4 and 10.

"We are very proud of the USFK-affiliated community ... for their continued efforts in adhering to our [health protection condition] mitigation measures and USFK core tenets," command spokesman Army Col. Lee Peters said in a statement to Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. "Their actions are reflected in our numbers and they speak for themselves: we've seen a continued downward trend over the last three weeks and expect to continue this trend."

The capital city of Seoul, which routinely counted more COVID-19 cases than any other province last year, reported 4,209 new infections on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, in a speech to the National Assembly on Jan. 27, implored the country to refrain from long-distance travel during the three-day holiday. With a “heavy heart,” and concern for people’s lives, Kim said, he could not fulfill their expectations of a normal holiday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Jan. 21 asked his countrymen and women to consider their health during the holiday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, and many people will not be able to return home even though the Lunar New Year holiday is only a few days away,” he said. "Amid this situation, I ask you to do all you can and take good care of your health.”

USFK is at health protection condition Bravo-plus, which indicates a heightened risk for the coronavirus spreading and brings increased health protection measures.

The U.S. military population in South Korea is subject to strict social distancing and mask policies but has not been confined to their homes and installations as those in Japan were for three weeks in January.

One month after South Korea confirmed its first COVID-19 case on Jan. 20, 2020, USFK elevated its health-risk level to condition Charlie and Charlie-plus, which prompted mandatory health checks at base entrances and curtailed many activities.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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