(ATTN: ADDS Korean health official's comments in last 2 paras)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Sept. 22 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Tuesday it will release coronavirus patients showing no symptoms after 20 days of quarantine even if they continue to test positive for the virus, citing medical research that individuals are no longer contagious after 20 days.
USFK said it came up with the change in the discharge policy after thorough coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
"USFK ... will begin to release individuals from isolation once they have reached 21 days in isolation, regardless if they continue to test positive for COVID-19," USFK said in a statement.
"Recent medical research studies have indicated that individuals are no longer contagious after 20 days, even though their COVID-19 test can remain positive beyond this time," it added, noting that the decision was made "after through coordination" with the U.S. and South Korean health authorities.
Though the patients are released from isolation, they will come under the authorities' thorough monitoring, a USFK official said.
Other key quarantine measures will be in place, including requiring all USFK-affiliated individuals arriving in South Korea to undergo a virus test and to be quarantined for 14 days. Medical personnel administer a second test prior to their release.
"USFK policies still exceed both U.S. and ROK release criteria, and we remain more stringent than everyone else in identifying, containing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 within our formations, installations, and communities," USFK said.
According to South Korea's revised guidelines, effective from June 25, COVID-19 patients can be released from isolation if they have not shown any clinical symptoms for 10 days after being confirmed to have the virus, though they continue to test positive.
Previously, asymptomatic patients were allowed to exit quarantine only when they tested negative in two consecutive tests taken at least 24 hours apart.
"We had consultations with the U.S. military on the matter," Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Central Disease Control Headquarters, told a regular briefing.
"Despite positive results on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing after around 20 days, the virus in those cases is neither infectious nor viable, and it is confirmed to be rather caused by dead particles of the virus, according to our analysis. So we see no problems in their release based on these grounds," he added.
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