Two US military bases in South Korea impose 'shelter-in-place' order as country extends COVID-19 curbs

Two US military bases in South Korea impose 'shelter-in-place' order as country extends COVID-19 curbs

FILE PHOTO: Heavy snowfall amid COVID-19 pandemic in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: A couple wearing masks walks during a heavy snowfall, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL: The US Forces in Korea (USFK) said on Saturday (Jan 16) it has imposed a shelter-in-place order on two of its largest bases - US Army Garrison Yongsan and Camp Humphreys - until Tuesday after a cluster of coronavirus infections. 

Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, is the largest US military base overseas, housing the USFK headquarters and thousands of troops, civilian workers and their family members.

It was not immediately clear how many cases have been reported at the two bases, but the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Saturday that a total of 18 people related to the US base in Seoul tested positive this week so far. 

The command has been relatively successful in keeping infections down to a handful. A shelter-in-place order is akin to a stay-home order.

The new cluster was reported as COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to US troops in the country.

READ: South Korea's COVID-19 death toll passes 1,000, gyms protest distancing rules

South Korea reported 580 new cases of novel coronavirus infection as of midnight on Friday, bringing total infections to 71,820, with 1,236 deaths.

More than 60 per cent of the domestically transmitted cases have been from Seoul and its neighbouring areas, where about half of the nation's 52 million people live.

READ: South Korea unveils inflatable isolation ward for COVID-19 patients

South Korea will extend current social distancing guidelines in the densely populated capital and surrounding areas for another two weeks as they have significantly curtailed infections, health minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing on Saturday.

"Although it has halted the spread of the third wave of the pandemic and turned into a downward trend, we are not yet in the place where we could let our guard down," Kwon said.

While continuing the restrictions, which include a ban on private gatherings of more than four people and shutting down most establishments and shops at 9pm, some venues that have been forced to close, such as gyms and karaoke bars will resume operation if they apply strict prevention measures, Kwon said.

Health authorities also urged people to stay home during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays in early February, when people traditionally travel to reunite with families.

South Korea, which has stopped short of a complete lockdown or stay-at-home order, has experienced its biggest wave of infections in recent weeks, with a record 1,241 cases in one day during the Christmas holiday.

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Source: Reuters/gs