Ernest Lee, Veterans of Foreign Wars community director and a U.S. military retiree living in South Korea, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base, Feb. 5, 2021.

Ernest Lee, Veterans of Foreign Wars community director and a U.S. military retiree living in South Korea, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base, Feb. 5, 2021. (Daniel de La Fe/U.S. Air Force)

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TOKYO – The U.S. military command in South Korea on Thursday reported that 14 people have tested positive for the coronavirus since Jan. 19, all of them new arrivals to the peninsula.

South Korea reported 621 new infections Wednesday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Seoul accounted for 179 and Gyeonggi province, home of the country’s largest U.S. base, Camp Humphreys, had 237.

New infections in the country have nearly doubled since 326 were reported Sunday, according to the World Health Organization. Its one-day peak so far occurred Dec. 25 at 1,235 new cases.

According to U.S. Forces Korea, 11 of its new patients tested positive upon arrival and before going into mandatory quarantine; the remaining three turned up positive on the test required before exiting quarantine.

Of the 14, six service members arrived at Osan Air Base on the Patriot Express, the government-chartered air passenger service, on Feb. 8, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, a USFK news release said. Another seven service members and one Defense Department civilian employee arrived on commercial flights at Incheon International Airport on Jan. 19, Feb. 3, 6, 8, 12, Sunday and Monday.

All are in quarantine at either Osan or Humphreys, according to USFK.

U.S. commands in Japan reported no new cases Thursday.

Tokyo announced that 445 people tested positive for the coronavirus, breaking a six-day run of daily reports below 400, according to public broadcaster NHK and Tokyo metro government data.

The city has reported 108,782 infections during the pandemic and more than 1,180 deaths due to complications from COVID-19, the coronavirus respiratory disease.

On the vaccine front, the Defense Department has so far shipped more than 200,000 doses overseas and over 800,000 doses inside the United States, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday.

DOD expects to vaccinate nearly all its service members, civilian employees and other beneficiaries by late July or early August, Robert G. Salesses, interim assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier in the day.

Anyone in the U.S. military may decline the vaccine because the Food and Drug Administration has only approved it for emergency use.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, senior Republican on the committee, said DOD is reluctant to mandate the vaccine for its personnel, but full FDA approval may take two years, too long to wait given the appearance of coronavirus variants that spread faster than the original virus.

Kirby, responding later in the day to a reporter’s question, said the Pentagon faces legal restraints on making the vaccine mandatory under the FDA emergency-use authority.

DOD had inoculated 916,575 of its personnel, as of Wednesday, Air Force Major Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, the vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee, according to a video of the hearing posted online. That represents about 20% of the DOD total, he said.

Salesses said about 212,000 service members have received one of the two required shots; about 147,000 have received both shots. Twitter: @JosephDitzler

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Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.

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