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(LEAD) Military vows to mobilize maximum possible resources to support anti-virus battle

All Headlines 17:14 March 02, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES 2nd para with latest figures; ADDS more details in paras 4-6, photo)
By Oh seok-min

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry pledged Monday to mobilize as many military medical staff and other personnel as possible to support the government's all-out battle against the new coronavirus, while striving further to stop the virus spreading further into the barracks.

Currently, 327 military doctors and nurses and 1,060 service members and other officials have been mobilized to help with civilian anti-virus efforts, as COVID-19 infections have rapidly risen to 4,212 cases and 26 deaths Monday.

The ministry plans to postpone a four-week military training program for public health doctors so as to put about 750 doctors into service. Public health doctors carry out their service as a substitute for mandatory military service.

The ministry will also send more than 110 military doctors and nurses to a military hospital in the southeastern city of Daegu to have it ready to accept civilian patients, with 303 beds, starting Thursday, the ministry said.

Of them, 75 nurses are new graduates from the Korea Armed Forces Nursing Academy. Academy graduates are supposed to receive three weeks of training before carrying out missions, but the training will be put off this time and this year's graduation ceremony will take place on Tuesday, about a week ahead of schedule, it added.

The authorities have been struggling to secure medical facilities and personnel, particularly in Daegu and its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, where nearly 90 percent of the total infections have been reported. Some of the patients have died at their residences while being in self-quarantine waiting to be hospitalized.

Students of the Korea Armed Forces Nursing Academy receive training in the central city of Daejeon on March 2, 2020, before being dispatched to a military hospital in Daegu, the epicenter of the fast spread of COVID-19 virus in South Korea, this week. (Yonhap)

About 600 additional personnel will also be assigned to help local governments with anti-virus operations. Their focus has been and will be on Daegu and North Gyeongsang, according to the ministry.

"We have been preparing to mobilize the maximum possible number of military resources as long as it does not cause any medical vacuum in the military," Lee Nam-woo, chief of the ministry's personnel welfare office, said.

The military authorities have also been active to prevent the virus from spreading further into the barracks, according to the ministry.

So far, 28 military-related individuals -- 25 active-duty service members and three civilian workers for the military -- have tested positive. Sixteen are in the Army, 10 in the Air Force and one each in the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Around 9,790 service members are quarantined at their bases. Of them, around 910 have either shown symptoms or had direct contact with infected patients, while the remainder recently visited Daegu, North Gyeongsang or virus-hit foreign countries such as China, Hong Kong, Macao and Japan.

Soldiers are on a military truck to help distribute masks to the public on March 1, 2020, in this photo provided by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. They were among dozens of service members mobilized to help produce and deliver masks to the public as the country faced mask supply problems. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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