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(LEAD) Military to ease restrictions on off-installation visits over coronavirus

Defense 10:53 April 22, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figures at bottom; ADDS more info, quote in paras 6, 8-9)
By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) -- The military will ease restrictions on enlisted service members' off-installation travel, the defense ministry said Wednesday, amid signs of a slowdown in the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

The military has restricted all enlisted service personnel from vacationing, staying outside their bases and meeting visitors since mid-February after the Navy reported the first COVID-19 infection in barracks.

Under the eased policy, enlisted service members at designated areas will be allowed to go outside their bases starting Friday as long as they follow the government's broader social distancing guidance, according to the ministry.

Earlier, the government said it will ease some rules in the social distancing campaign against the new virus, while urging people to keep major distancing practices in place until early May.

The military will first ease restrictions in regions that have not reported any new infections for a week and review whether to allow the service members to go on vacation, stay out of their bases and meet visitors after monitoring the situation down the road.

Among some 220 cities, counties and districts, around 80 percent meet the criteria as of Wednesday, officials said.

"After a prolonged, intensive restriction for two months, recruits and junior officers have been complaining of extreme stress, and our assessment is that we have reached a threshold," the ministry said in a release.

Though the restriction policy has been in place for two months, some service members could not leave their bases for five to six months depending on their situations.

"When the overall stress level of service members increases, the likelihood of accidents occurring also rises," a ministry official said, noting that the latest decision was made in part to alleviate difficulties in managing troops.

The number of infections in barracks stood at 39 as of Wednesday morning. The last case was reported in mid-March.

Nationwide, South Korea detected 11 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, marking the fourth day in a row that the country's new infections stayed below 15. The total number of infections stood at 10,694, including 238 deaths.

In this file photo, taken on Feb. 26, 2020, troops belonging to the Army's 50th division check the driver of an ambulance for fever near its base in northern Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)


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