(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with latest figures, more details)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- Eleven service members have been confirmed to have the new coronavirus as of early Monday, and around 7,900 others are quarantined as part of efforts to stop the virus from spreading further in barracks, the defense ministry said.
Eight COVID-19 cases in the Army and one each in the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps had been confirmed as of 10 a.m. Monday, up from a total of seven cases the previous day, according to the ministry.
The four newly confirmed soldiers are suspected of having been exposed to the virus after contacting patients inside barracks, according to military officers. South Korea reported the first virus case among its service personnel on Friday.
The 11 military members were among South Korea's 763 cases of the new coronavirus. As of Monday, the country had reported seven deaths among civilian patients.
In the wake of a leap in the number of confirmed cases over the past several days with a cluster of infections linked to a religious group in the southeastern city of Daegu and a hospital in its adjacent country of Cheongdo, the authorities checked all service personnel with a history of visiting the regions or having contact with patients, and they are currently isolating around 7,900 soldiers at their bases.
"Of them, about 350 people either have shown symptoms or had direct contact with patients. But we have applied tougher quarantine standards as preventive steps," deputy ministry spokesperson Moon Hong-sik told a regular briefing.
As the government on Sunday raised the alert level to "serious," the highest in its four-tier system, the ministry has formulated additional measures to contain the outbreak.
All outdoor drills have been halted across the country, and those carrying out off-installation drills were ordered to return to their bases immediately, according to the officials.
In order to prevent the situation from affecting military readiness, the ministry also issued operations-related instructions to all branches of service that call for extra measures to ensure vigilance among key personnel at ground posts in border areas, military command and control centers, and among those in charge of major maritime and air surveillance systems.
"Taking the current situation seriously, our military will maintain staunch readiness and proactively support pan-government efforts to overcome the disaster," Moon added.
In stepped-up efforts against the virus, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) on Monday suspended its examinations of potential conscripts to determine whether they are fit for mandatory military service for the next two weeks.
In order to provide precise information and to minimize confusion, the ministry plans to disclose official data on new coronavirus cases among soldiers twice a day – at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- starting Monday, according to the officials.
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