(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6-7)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Thursday it has removed travel restrictions for South Korea's southeastern city of Daegu as new coronavirus cases in the area have been on the decline recently.
In February, USFK designated Daegu as a coronavirus "hot spot" and banned all service members from making nonessential travel to, from and around the city, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases there began to surge sharply.
"Due to the hard work of the city of Daegu, USAG Daegu, and 19th ESC, the USFK Commander has declared the Daegu area is no longer a Hot Spot off-limits area," USFK said, noting that the measures were effective Wednesday.
USAG means U.S. Army Garrison, and the 19th ESC stands for the U.S. military's Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
The lifting of the restrictions means USFK members can visit the city without getting approval from their leadership, but broader measures that limit their nonessential off-installation activities remain in effect under its Health Protection Condition Level (HPCON) issued for all USFK installations across the country, according to USFK.
Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base, both located in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, are currently the only bases with the HPCON level of Charlie Plus, or C+. USFK said later in the day their levels will return to HPCON Charlie starting Saturday. Charlie/C+ is the fourth highest warning level on the five-scale system.
"This means all USFK installations will now be at HPCON C level beginning this weekend," USFK said in a Facebook post. "It is everyone's responsibility to continue proper hand hygiene, using social distancing and wearing masks to ensure we stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the force."
Daegu, once the epicenter of the virus outbreak here, has reported a far fewer numbers of new virus patients over the past several days. On Thursday, four new virus cases were confirmed in Daegu, with the total infections in the city standing at 6,827.
Nationwide, the number of coronavirus patients came to 10,613, including 229 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among USFK populations, 24 people have tested positive so far, and eight out of them were from Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province regions.
Of the 24 patients, 10 have fully recovered so far, including the first active-duty service member who tested positive for the virus, USFK said in a separate release.
"He awaits his chain of command's decision to determine when he will return to duty," USFK said.
The American soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, located in the county of Chilgok, near Daegu, and he is one of two USFK service members who contracted the virus.
"USFK ... continues to maintain a robust combined defense posture to protect the Republic of Korea against any threat or adversary while maintaining prudent preventive measures to protect the force," it said.
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