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Senior Airman Abigail Kerr, an air traffic controller with the 8th Operations Support Squadron, communicates with fighter pilots performing low approaches at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2022.

Senior Airman Abigail Kerr, an air traffic controller with the 8th Operations Support Squadron, communicates with fighter pilots performing low approaches at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2022. (Jesenia Landaverde/U.S. Air Force)

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — New COVID-19 cases among the U.S. military in South Korea are on the rise as the daily number of new cases in the country itself surpassed 200,000 Wednesday for the first time during the pandemic.

U.S. Forces Korea counted 164 new cases over a seven-day period ending Monday. Of those, 28 were recent arrivals in South Korea and 136 were infections acquired locally, according to an update Wednesday on the command’s website.

USFK’s weekly total is 45 cases more than the previous week and two more than it confirmed between Feb. 8-14. The command is responsible for approximately 28,500 U.S. troops.

Meanwhile, South Korean health officials recorded 219,241 new cases across the country Wednesday. The new record exceeds Tuesday’s 138,989 infections and the previous daily record of 171,451 cases on Feb. 23.

Gyeonggi, South Korea’s most populous province, accounted for over 68,600 of Wednesday’s cases. Seoul, the capital city, reported the second highest number, 46,933.

USFK has banned off-duty travel to Seoul, as well as trips to saunas, bathhouses, clubs and bars.

Around 86.5% of the country’s population of 51 million people is fully vaccinated and 61.4% received a booster shot as of Tuesday.

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum described March as a likely “turning point” for the pandemic.

“This month is a very critical period,” Kim said Wednesday during a meeting at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters. “The government will continue to keep faith sent by the people towards the government’s anti-epidemic prevention measures.”

There is a chance for more positive cases during spring, when people are expected to gather in groups, Kim said. The medical system is capable of handling more cases in the days ahead with around 50% of the country’s hospital beds occupied, he said.

“We recently saw that the number of confirmed cases have been about doubling every week while the coronavirus’ spread is getting fast towards a tipping point,” Kim said. “The fact is that the number of severe cases and deaths have been increasing in accordance with it.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a public speech Tuesday lauded the country’s economic growth of 4% last year as the pandemic raged.

“The mature civic awareness of our people was a key factor in our ability to pass through the COVID-19 tunnel,” he said.

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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