By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday it will ease quarantine restrictions this week for all areas but Seoul and nearby regions, allowing service members to dine at restaurants and conduct other off-base activities except visiting bars and clubs.
The decision to lower the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) level by one notch to the second-lowest "Bravo" from the current "Charlie" level came as South Korea has seen a marked slowdown in the number of new coronavirus cases.
The measure will take effect at 6 a.m. Wednesday, USFK said.
Under the eased status, service members will be allowed to dine at restaurants, shop offline and conduct outdoor activities as long as they adhere to basic anti-virus guidelines, according to USFK.
"While USFK is lowering its health protection condition and many of its preventive measures, it is not lowering its guard. Due to the associated risk, all bars, clubs and establishments that restrict entrance to adults only are off limits pen-wide to all USFK-affiliated personnel until further notice," it said.
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, and briefly heightened the level by one notch for several installations.
People living in the metropolitan region will also be allowed to leave the area for approved activities within HPCON Bravo areas.
"ROK officials have done an exceptional job in effectively suppressing the spread of COVID-19," USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea. "I have complete confidence that the recent outbreak will be quickly contained and suppressed due to their proactive and aggressive measures taken so far."
South Korea has recently seen a surge in the number of infections related to nightlife installations in Seoul's multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon, but the cases have shown clear signs of a slowdown in the past few days.
USFK said it will immediately snap back to a heightened restriction level "without hesitation" if threats over the virus resurge. USFK has reported 28 cases of the new coronavirus among its population so far.
On Monday, South Korea reported 15 new cases of the novel coronavirus, raising the nation's total to 11,065.
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