(ATTN: ADDS defense ministry's plan for military academies' entrance ceremonies in last 5 paras, photo)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea tentatively decided to send only slightly more than two dozen soldiers to Thailand for a multinational exercise, rather than hundreds of troops as originally planned, due to concerns about the new coronavirus, the Navy said Wednesday.
The South Korean Navy and Marine Corps had initially planned to send about 400 service personnel, as well as eight assault amphibious vehicles aboard a naval ship, to the 39th Cobra Gold exercise, co-sponsored by the Thai and U.S. armed forces, set to be held from Feb. 25 through March 6.
But the military decided to send around 30 senior-level service members only to attend its command post exercise (CPX) part, the Navy said, adding that the country will skip field maneuvers this time so that no military hardware and Marine Corps officers are deployed.
The final decision will be made later, in consideration of developments regarding the virus, dubbed COVID-19, according to the Navy.
"The decision was made after factoring in overall circumstances regarding COVID-19, including the safety of our service personnel," the Navy said in a release.
"We will make thorough preventive measures for the officials who will take part in the CPX, and will work closely with the Thai side," it added.
It is the second time that South Korea changed its plan regarding international military events due to the potentially deadly virus. Earlier this month, the Air Force decided not to participate in the biennial Singapore Airshow 2020.
Cobra Gold, launched in 1982, is the largest international military exercise held in the Asia-Pacific region, and South Korea began to attend it in 2010.
This year's exercise is expected to bring together at least nine countries, including China, India and Japan, according to officials. Last year it was joined by more than two dozen nations.
As of Wednesday, South Korea has 28 confirmed cases of the virus. More than 1,110 people have died in China and nearly 45,000 have been confirmed infected. Thailand has also reported 33 confirmed cases.
Reversing its earlier decision, meanwhile, the defense ministry decided to invite family members of new students of the military academies of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy to upcoming entrance ceremonies.
The authorities had initially planned to hold scaled-down ceremonies without inviting family members and acquaintances of freshmen as part of efforts to prevent spread of the new coronavirus.
"The ministry instructed the schools to have a limited number of family members accompany newcomers to the ceremonies, while beefing up measures to prevent coronavirus," the ministry said in a release.
The events are to be held later this month.
The modification comes after Prime Minister Jeong Sye-Kyun called on ministries and local governments earlier in the day to hold their events as scheduled rather than unconditionally canceling or delaying them out of infection fears, apparently to minimize its impact on the economy.
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