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The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency counted 54,122 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, breaking a record of 49,567 infections in South Korea from the previous day.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency counted 54,122 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, breaking a record of 49,567 infections in South Korea from the previous day. (Stars and Stripes)

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — American troops stationed in South Korea will soon be allowed to dine in local restaurants after U.S. Forces Korea announced on Thursday that it was lifting some COVID-19 restrictions.

USFK is loosening some social distancing measures Friday, and will permit “any indoor and outdoor activity” allowed under South Korea’s guidelines, according to a command news release.

That means service members, their families, civilian employees and contractors may again dine in off-base restaurants and visit shopping malls. USFK, the command responsible for approximately 28,500 troops, banned those activities on Jan. 8 as the number of COVID-19 cases increased throughout the country.

Members of the military community welcome the change after a month of restrictions, some told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

“I’m ecstatic,” Cecilia Ryals, a military spouse who lives near Camp Carroll, said by phone. “I guess morale was low. I was personally feeling a little depressed. But as soon as I heard the news, I already had plans.”

Army spouse Kim Castle, a moderator for a Facebook support group at Camp Humphreys, said she believes the changes will boost morale.

“I know a lot of people, both dependents and soldiers themselves — this was very much bringing their morale down,” she said.

However, USFK is not changing its coronavirus risk level, which is at condition Bravo-plus. Travel to Seoul is still limited to official duties or to visit the Dragon Hill Lodge, a hotel at Yongsan Garrison. Local bars, clubs, bathhouses and karaoke clubs are still off-limits.

USFK still requires its population to abide by South Korea’s social distancing directives that mandate masks and limit private gatherings to six people, according to the release.

USFK on Monday reported 153 new COVID-19 infections from the previous week, which marked four consecutive weeks of declining numbers. Previously, the command reported 196 cases between Jan. 25 and 31 and a record high of 1,599 new cases between Jan. 4 and 10.

Meanwhile, new infections in South Korea continue to break records. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency counted 54,122 new cases Wednesday, breaking a one-day high of 49,567 from the previous day.

The uptick followed the Lunar New Year holiday from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 when much of the population was expected to travel and visit family members.

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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