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(LEAD) USFK commander calls for high vigilance against coronavirus

All News 14:56 March 11, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info, comments on U.S. military's order stopping movement in paras 8, 14-18)
By Oh Seok-min and Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, March 11 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen. Robert Abrams called Wednesday for his troops to stay vigilant against the new coronavirus despite the downward trend in new infections in South Korea while ensuring at the same time that they are ready to "fight tonight."

"We are not out of the woods yet," Abrams said on a radio program of American Forces Network (AFN) Korea. "We have been working on this 24/7 with what we call enhanced watch teams at every level."

As of Wednesday, South Korea had 7,755 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 60 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Among the USFK-related population, nine have tested positive so far, including one service member stationed at Camp Carroll in the southeastern town of Chilgok.

The commander pointed to the "positive" development in which the number of fresh infections in South Korea has been on a decrease over the past several days, but he still reiterated a cautious approach.

"We are going to be very deliberate and act out of an abundance of caution ... We are not going to be premature, and that requires sacrifice and burden by every one, but in the interest of the health of the force, we are gonna be very cautious." Abrams said, adding, "We don't know what the end state's gonna be."

Seen here is a gate of the U.S. base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a tweet on March 8, 2020, that the U.S. Department of the Army has ordered its soldiers and their families to stop movement to and from South Korea amid concerns over the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

USFK has been implementing various measures to control the spread of the virus, such as enhancing entry control and limiting non-mission essential meetings and off-installation travel by its personnel.

So far, around 125 people affiliated with USFK have undergone tests. A total of 95 people are currently in self-quarantine as a precaution against the virus, with the figure once reaching as high as 392, the commander said.

Noting that all people "are living this lifestyle change," the commander then asked his people to fully comply with related guidelines and exert patience.

"You are obligated to answer honestly and truthfully without penalty, and we actually had an incident a couple of days ago with our contractor who came up positive for COVID-19 ... and did not answer truthfully when he came on base," Abrams said, noting that he is now barred permanently from the U.S. bases.

The commander, at the same time, stressed the importance of maintaining a full readiness posture, explaining why he has not imposed total restrictions on movements.

"We always have our mission to perform here. That mission has not gone away just because we have COVID-19. Our mission here is to be ready to fight tonight in the defense of the Republic of Korea," Abrams stressed.

Praising the South Korean health authorities' handling of the issue, he vowed continued close cooperation.

"We have an amazing partnership with the KCDC. They've been incredibly transparent, cooperative and collaborative," Abrams said.

Speaking of the U.S. Army's order on its soldiers and families to halt movements to and from South Korea, Abrams said he has sought some clarifications, as well as ways to avoid confusion.

"Frankly, it came as a bit of a surprise to all of us. So we have been doing the analysis," he said. "The first thing I asked for was give us general officer-level waiver authority for specific cases to avoid undue burden and hardship."

He vowed to explore how to use all of his authority to minimize the financial burden on those affected.

The order was issued earlier this week and will be in effect until May 6 or until further notice. About 2,200 service personnel and their family members have been affected by the decision, according to the commander.

U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams speaks during a press conference at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on Nov. 12, 2019, in this photo provided by his office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)



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