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(LEAD) USFK says local labs agreed to test coronavirus samples from off-peninsula American troops

All Headlines 22:58 April 06, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead with new USFK statement; ADDS more details throughout)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's state-run disease control center and other civilian labs have agreed to test coronavirus samples from American troops stationed outside of the country, U.S. Forces Korea said Monday, following a report that USFK commissioned a private lab to test samples brought in from outside.

A vernacular daily reported earlier in the day that 72 American servicemembers have been confirmed to have the virus in tests conducted by a South Korean research institute in Seoul at the request of the U.S. military hospital at Camp Humphreys.

The paper cited USFK saying that the service personnel were not part of USFK but "soldiers who contribute to South Korea's security." The daily raised speculation that they could be sailors on the nuclear-powered submarine USS Theodore Roosevelt or servicemembers stationed in Okinawa or Guam.

"KCDC and USFK have developed a good and reliable working relationship during the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to this relationship, KCDC and other South Korean labs have agreed to test other (off-peninsula) U.S. military swabs," USFK said in a statement.

KCDC stands for the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USFK did not provide further details, including how many samples were brought in from outside the Korean Peninsula or how many local labs have been involved.

Sources said earlier that the U.S. military commissioned those samples to local labs, as it has had difficulties handling all outside test requests due to the recent run of confirmed cases among its population.

USFK reportedly agreed to help other services conduct test samples, and is capable of testing around 100 swabs per day.

As of Monday, USFK had reported a total of 19 virus cases.

"Any reports of a U.S. citizen or U.S. service member with a confirmed COVID-19 case that was not officially released by USFK, does not reflect or imply an increase to USFK confirmed cases," the military added.

In response to controversy over bringing in virus samples, health authorities said that several foreign countries have asked local institutions for coronavirus testing, and some cases have been approved as long as they do not affect the country's disease control system.

"To minimize any possible impacts on our quarantine system, we've issued an administrative order, which went into effect on April 1, which requires local labs to report such requests to the authorities in advance for consultations," KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a regular briefing.

Foreign entities are not required to notify local labs of personal information of the testees, she said.

This photo, captured from the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu Facebook page, shows U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams (C) inspecting the commissary of Camp Walker in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 2, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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