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(4th LD) USFK reports 2 more coronavirus cases, Camp Humphreys under partial lockdown

All Headlines 17:43 March 27, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more comments, info in paras 9-10, 13-14, 16-17)
By Oh Seok-min and Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) reported two additional cases of the coronavirus Friday, bringing the total number of infections among its population to 12, and enforced a partial lockdown of the Pyeongtaek garrison.

The latest patients are a female American soldier stationed at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, and an American civilian contractor who also works at the garrison, according to the military.

The soldier is the second U.S. service member stationed in South Korea to have contracted the virus, and is currently in isolation at barracks inside the camp designed to house new coronavirus patients, USFK said

"She last reported for work and visited various Camp Humphreys' locations on March 26," USFK said in a release.

The U.S. contractor last visited the garrison Tuesday and is being quarantined at his off-base residence, it said in a separate release.

"USFK is actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether anyone else may have been exposed and is thoroughly cleaning all the known locations visited," it said.

This photo shows 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)

Following the latest revelations, the military has taken extra precautions, such as shutting down several facilities, halting public transportation and restricting all movement except for mission essentials and basic needs.

"All movement aboard Camp Humphreys is restricted to only the bare necessities - food, life/health/safety," USFK said, uploading the list of facilities that were closed starting early Friday until further notice.

All construction work has also been halted, including building facilities for the Combined Forces Command (CFC) headquarters, according to officials. Seoul and Washington have been working to relocate the headquarters to Pyeongtaek from Seoul's Yongsan Garrison in around 2021.

"We actually have a mission here. We have to balance that, but right now, I have tipped the scale out of abundance of caution to limit everybody's movement, avoid contact, only go out for bare minimum essentials and get those people medically assessed," USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said on a radio program of American Forces Network (AFN) Korea. The commander himself is currently working from his quarters.

Referring to its 10th COVID-19 patient, Abrams said the Department of Defense contractor did not follow the military's strong recommendations on limiting off-installation activities. He is an American citizen and was confirmed to have the virus Tuesday.

"We had four to five other documented instances of non-service members generally not complying with our strong recommendations and that was really the impetus behind declaring a public emergency," Abrams said.

Concerns have risen over additional infections among the Pyeongtaek garrison population, as the two latest patients were infected after contact with the 10th patient.

"We've got ways to go. We are not out of the woods. Now is not time to become complacent, now is time to be vigilant, take extra precaution, really buckle down and ... tell everybody it requires a lifestyle change," he said, expressing his will "to do everything possible" in his authority to prevent the spread of the virus.

USFK remains at a level of "high" risk across the peninsula and is implementing control measures to stop the spread of the virus. On Wednesday, Abrams declared a public health emergency, which was intended to ensure commanders' authority to issue related guidelines and enforce compliance, according to his office.

During the radio interview, the commander praised South Korea for its handling of the virus outbreak, saying that his members are away from home but "lucky" to be here.

"If I need something, any help or assistance, all I need to do is picking up the phone (to call my South Korean counterparts). They've bent over backwards. They have been amazing partners," Abrams said.

South Korea reported an additional 91 virus patients Friday, bringing the total to 9,332 cases, including 139 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

A military guard at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, checks the temperature of a driver as part of screening for the novel coronavirus at the compound on Feb. 28, 2020, in this photo provided by United States Forces Korea. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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