By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, May 15 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Friday it will maintain the current health protection level against the coronavirus that restricts service members' off-base activities amid a recent surge in virus cases in South Korea.
Currently, USFK imposes the Health Protection Condition Level of Charlie, or HPCON C, for all USFK installations, which limits non-necessary off-post activities, such as visiting gyms outside the barracks, clubs, shopping centers and theaters, to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In late February, USFK first implemented HPCON C, the third-highest warning level in its five-scale system, which ranges from HPCON A to B, C, C+ and D, though it briefly heightened the level by one notch for several installations.
"USFK will remain at HPCON C until further notice," the military said in its Facebook post, adding that when to lower the level will be decided "when the conditions are all right."
Earlier, officials said USFK had been reviewing an option to ease those restrictions as early as this week.
The decision to maintain the strict guidance came as South Korea began to see a surge in confirmed virus cases last week linked to clubs and bars in Seoul's multicultural district of Itaewon.
As of Friday at noon, the country reported a total of 153 coronavirus patients tied to Itaewon, including 90 clubgoers, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Earlier this month, USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams, announcing the decision to maintain the current anti-virus warning level despite South Korea's relaxation of social distancing guidelines, said the military "assessed that it is still too early to let down its guard as the risk and threat of COVID-19 to the force remains."
"We'll watch and see how these new measures play out over the next week or so, and then if the current conditions are maintained, we'll move forward with relaxing our preventative measures as well, to include moving to HPCON Bravo (HPCON B)," he said.
So far, USFK has reported a total of 28 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among its population, and 17 of the patients have fully recovered.
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