South Korean virus cases jump again, first US soldier infected

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — South Korean virus cases jumped again yesterday and the United States (US) military confirmed its first case among American soldiers based in the Asian country, with his case and many others connected to a southeastern city with a growing illness cluster.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said 216 of the 284 new cases were in Daegu, where the government has been mobilising public health tools to contain the spread of the outbreak, and in neighbouring towns.

The US military said the 23-year-old soldier was in self-quarantine at his off-base residence.

He was based in Camp Carroll in a town near Daegu, and visited both Carroll and nearby Camp Walker in recent days, according to the statement.

South Korean authorities and US military health professionals traced his contacts to determine if other people may have been exposed.

A worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a bus garage in Seoul, South Korea, yesterday. PHOTO: AP

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. United States Forces Korea (USKF) previously said a widowed dependent had the virus, the first case involving a USFK-related individual. South Korea’s 600,000-member military reported 18 cases and quarantined thousands of soldiers as a precaution.

Bowling alleys, movie theatres and a golf course at four US bases were closed after the soldier’s case was confirmed, commander of the US Army Garrison Daegu Colonel Edward Ballanco said. Restaurants at the bases, and at Camp George in Daegu, provide only takeout meals with soldiers and family members prohibited from dining there, he said.

“This is a setback, it’s true, there’s no getting around that, but it’s not the end of the war,” he said on a video message posted on Facebook.

“We are very well equipped to fight this thing off. I am certain that, that soldier that has tested positive, he’s on his way up to Camp Humphreys today, is going to get better medical care than anyone else in Korea who has the coronavirus.”

South Korea has 1,146 confirmed infections of the virus and 11 fatalities from the COVID-19 illness it causes. The national government has been channelling medical personnel, protective suits and other supplies to Daegu, and there are concerns the local hospitals are overwhelmed and fatigued doctors are becoming vulnerable to infections.

“This week will be critical in the fight to combat the illness,” Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said at a meeting in Daegu City Hall to discuss quarantine efforts.

The number of cases was expected to rise as health workers finish testing hundreds of residents of Daegu that has the country’s biggest cluster of infections. The church in Daegu provided a list of 212,000 members nationwide to government authorities who plan to widen the screening. Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said authorities plan to find and test churchgoers exhibiting symptoms first.

South Korea’s virus patients also include a 25-year-old cabin crew member of Korean Air, the country’s biggest airline, who worked on a flight that departed from Israel and arrived in South Korea on February 16, according to Director of the KCDC Jung Eun-kyeong. The flight also carried a group of tourists, of which 30 have tested positive.