(ATTN: ADDS USFK's antivirus guidance in last 8 paras, photo)
SEOUL, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- Twenty-six American service members and five civilians affiliated with the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) have tested positive for the new coronavirus upon their arrival here over the past few weeks, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
Of them, 13 service members and three family members arrived at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on government-chartered flights, while 13 other service members, one civilian worker and one dependent came here on commercial flights via Incheon International Airport, west of the capital, according to USFK.
They arrived between Dec. 29 and Jan. 18, it added.
Eight of the newly confirmed people tested positive on their first mandatory COVID-19 test prior to entering quarantine, and the remainder on their mandatory test required to exit quarantine, according to USFK.
All USFK-affiliated individuals arriving in South Korea are required to undergo a virus test and quarantine for 14 days. Medical personnel administer a second test prior to their release.
The new patients have since been transferred to isolation facilities designated for confirmed COVID-19 cases at military bases in South Korea, USFK said, adding, "None of the new arrivals have interacted with anyone residing within USFK installations or the local community."
The latest cases raised the total number of infections reported among the USFK-related population to 635, most of whom tested positive upon their arrival here from the U.S.
Earlier, a USFK official said that such a high number of virus cases among new arrivals is due to the normal individual relocation moves to USFK, as well as those returning here from off-peninsula over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
From mid-January, all foreigners arriving at South Korean airports, including USFK-affiliated individuals, are required to present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure to the nation.
As part of effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, USFK decided Tuesday to maintain its antivirus alert at the current level for all areas of South Korea.
In early December, USFK enforced the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) Charlie, or HPCON C, the third-highest warning level in its five-tier system, and extended the scheme three times to Jan. 19.
"While the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Korea are moving in the right direction, based on South Korea remaining in social distancing 2.5, USFK will remain in HPCON Charlie and will make an official reassessment of our HPCON level on Feb. 2," USFK said in a Facebook post.
On Saturday, the Seoul government extended the current social distancing level for two weeks -- at Level 2.5 in the capital area and at Level 2 for the rest of the nation -- while easing business restrictions on cafes, gyms and other indoor facilities from Monday.
USFK also extended a "shelter in place" directive through Sunday that calls on service members at the Yongsan garrison, central Seoul, to stay at home except for necessary activities.
The order was first issued on Saturday after a series of COVID-19 infections were reported on the Yongsan base and at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
Though it was supposed to expire Tuesday, the command decided to only allow the resumption of operations, functions and services in a limited fashion on the Pyeongtaek base starting on Wednesday.
The directive cited routine or emergency health care treatment, mission critical operations, food purchases, walking in close proximity of home and several other activities as "authorized activities" under the shelter-in-place order.