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(2nd LD) No. of coronavirus cases in military remains unchanged at 36

All News 18:04 March 09, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS latest info, defense chief's comments in paras 3, 5-11)

SEOUL, March 9 (Yonhap) -- The military reported no additional cases of the new coronavirus among its population Monday, with the total number of infections standing at 36.

Of the total COVID-19 cases, 20 were in the Army, 12 in the Air Force, two in the Marine Corps, and one each in the Navy and a unit under the direct control of the ministry, according to the defense ministry.

Thirty-one patients are active-duty service members and the remaining five are civilians working for the military, it added.

As preventive steps, around 2,580 service members are quarantined at their bases. Of them, around 340 have either shown symptoms or had direct contact with infected patients, while the remainder recently visited the southeastern city of Daegu, North Gyeongsang Province or other virus-hit foreign nations, including China.

As of Thursday, South Korea had 7,478 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 51 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Of the total, more than 90 percent have occurred in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo presided over a meeting with top commanders Monday, and called for continued, utmost efforts to stop the virus from spreading further into the military, as well as for the military to best support the government-wide anti-virus battle.

The commanders discussed whether to further delay the resumption of trainings for reserve forces, according to the ministry. Last month, the ministry decided to postpone this year's drills, set to begin on March 2, until April 17.

But the ministry said officials are considering staging now-suspended outdoor drills by active-duty troops in cases where they can be held without contact with civilians.

Jeong also instructed officials to take advantage of military assets as much as possible if they are necessary in distributing quarantine-related supplies or bringing back South Korean nationals quarantined in foreign nations.

"In this situation of crisis when we face military threats posed by North Korea's missile provocations and the non-military threat of COVID-19, the military should be committed to the protection of the people's lives, and their safety, in an proactive and preemptive manner," Jeong said.

On Monday, the communist country fired three short-range projectiles as part of its wintertime drills, about a week after launching two projectiles from its "super-large" multiple rocket launcher system.

Members of the Army Second Operational Command sterilize a retail outlet in Daegu, the epicenter of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak, on March 5, 2020, in this photo provided by the command. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The Military Manpower Administration (MMA) extended the suspension of medical examinations of potential conscripts for another two weeks until March 20. The examinations are meant to determine whether the young men are fit for mandatory military service.

But the enlistment of draftees residing in Daegu and the adjacent county of Cheongdo resumed Monday after the two-week suspension, according to the MMA.

About 320 new enlistees will be quarantined for two weeks at a temporary boot camp and then will be transferred to their bases for training, it added.

In a move to support the government's anti-virus efforts, the ministry on Monday mobilized dozens more service personnel as well as military vehicles to package and distribute face masks to Daegu and North Gyeongsang regions.

South Korea has been struggling with mask shortage problems and has come up with diverse measures to boost its production and ensure their even distribution.

"We are reviewing mobilizing military aircraft to reach remote areas, such as Jeju," the ministry said in a release, citing the country's southern island.

Currently, more than 1,870 soldiers and ministry officials, including 102 military doctors, are assigned to major checkpoints and health facilities across the country for quarantine efforts, according to the ministry.

Boxes carrying face masks are loaded onto a military truck from the Transportation Command at a logistics center in Nonsan, 213 kilometers south of Seoul, on March 9, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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