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(LEAD) PM apologizes for failure to prevent mass virus outbreak within Cheonghae unit

All News 11:34 July 20, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with President Moon's message in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, July 20 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum apologized Tuesday for the government's failure to prevent a mass COVID-19 outbreak among sailors of South Korea's Cheonghae unit on an anti-piracy mission in waters off Africa.

A total of 247 sailors of the 301-strong Cheonghae unit have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday, confirming a widely feared mass infection. The military sent two KC-330 multirole aerial tankers to Africa to bring back all the members.

"The government is very sorry for failing to carefully attend to the health of our troops dedicated to protecting our nation," Kim said during a daily interagency meeting on the government's coronavirus response, in addressing the virus outbreak within the Cheonghae unit.

A South Korean Air Force plane arrives at an unidentified African airport on July 18, 2021, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. South Korea hastily sent two KC-330 multipurpose aerial tankers to bring home all of the South Korean service members belonging to the Cheonghae Unit on an anti-piracy mission off the coast of Africa, right after the unit reported mass COVID-19 infections onboard. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Kim instructed the defense ministry to do its best for the treatment and recovery of returning troops. He also called for proper follow-up measures to ensure smooth mission continuity in light of an abrupt rotation of troop dispatch.

The prime minister also addressed safety concerns among parents about the government's coronavirus vaccinations for high school seniors.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks during a daily interagency meeting on the country's coronavirus response at the government complex in Sejong on July 20, 2021. (Yonhap)

On Monday, health authorities began rolling out the first jabs of the Pfizer vaccine to high school seniors and teachers across the country as part of efforts to get ready for the national college entrance exam slated for mid-November.

"There are many worries among parents as the program marks the first vaccinations among youths," Kim noted while asking health and school authorities to take special measures to monitor vaccinated students.

During a Cabinet meeting later in the day, President Moon Jae-in agreed that it is hard for the government to avoid criticism that its relevant measures were "insufficient" in the eyes of the people.

He called on the authorities to handle the issue thoroughly, while humbly accepting such criticism.


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