(ATTN: UPDATES with new confirmed cases in paras 7-10)
SEOUL, Aug. 17 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has raised the health protection level against the new coronavirus for all areas within South Korea as local infections accelerated amid a surge in church-related cases.
Effective at 5 a.m. Monday, the USFK heightened the Health Protection Condition Level (HPCON) to Charlie, or HPCON C, for all areas in the country, USFK said in a Facebook post.
Under the revised rules, the number of personnel working on bases will be reduced, and the USFK will conduct health checks such as temperature screening on all people entering its military bases.
On Saturday, USFK raised its protection level to Charlie within Seoul and the surrounding areas, including the western city of Incheon and eight districts in Gyeonggi Province.
The decision to raise the HPCON level to all areas within the country came after South Korea's new COVID-19 cases reached a five-month high of 279 on Sunday, spiking up from 166 on Saturday.
The recent surge in cases has prompted the health authorities to place stricter social distancing guidelines on Seoul and the metropolitan areas, scaling up the national alert level by one notch to Level 2 for two weeks from Sunday.
Five more American service members tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to the USFK on Monday.
Among them, three service members arrived at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on a U.S. government chartered flight while the two others arrived at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on commercial flights, it said.
They are now all at an isolation facility designated for confirmed COVID-19 patients at Camp Humphreys or the Osan base, it said.
The cases brought the total number of USFK-related infections to 157.
S. Koreans feel pinch of rising housing costs amid economic downturn
China's push for FTA with S. Korea, Japan appears aimed at checking U.S. influence
Blinken likely to seek stronger alliance, multilateral approach toward N. Korea: experts
Energy policy, optics of watchdog autonomy at stake in politically sensitive reactor audit
'Wall of buses' stirs up debate over how far police can go to stop rallies amid pandemic