By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Wednesday it will ease anti-coronavirus restrictions for its personnel across the peninsula except for the greater Seoul region, allowing its members to dine at restaurants and conduct off-base activities other than visiting bars and clubs.
The lowering of the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) level by one notch to the second-lowest level of "Bravo" from "Charlie" is based on "South Korea's current COVID-19 situation returning to favorable conditions," the U.S. military said.
The measure is effective peninsula-wide starting Thursday 4 p.m., except for Area II defined as the greater Seoul area, it said.
The Yongsan and Songnam districts within Area II will also be subject to the eased restrictions, while all other districts within the capital area will remain in HPCON Charlie for the time being.
Under the eased status, service members are allowed to dine at restaurants, shop offline and conduct outdoor activities as long as they adhere to basic anti-virus guidelines.
"All USFK individuals must follow South Korean rules, directives and laws regarding COVID-19, adhere to USFK core tenets and wear a mask at all times when off installation," it said.
Travel to Area II remains off limits for all USFK-affiliated personnel except for official and necessary duties, while individuals in Area II can leave the area for approved activities within HPCON Bravo areas, it said.
"Once again, the ROK government has done an exceptional job in effectively containing and suppressing the recent outbreak of COVID-19," said USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams, referring to South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
"Our record speaks for itself. We will continue to monitor and assess the virus as we have done since January, and will maintain our aggressive approach to identify, contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our formations, installations and communities," he said.
USFK reported 193 coronavirus infections among its population as of Monday, most of whom tested positive upon their arrivals here. USFK said it has not had an internal positive case since mid-April.
South Korea reported 110 new virus cases Wednesday, raising the total caseload to 23,216.
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