A MILITARY BASE in Korea’s NORTHERN CITY of Pocheon has been hit by a cluster outbreak PROMPTING the military to IMPOSE STRINGENT CONTAINMENT measures on service members and their families RESIDING in the area.
For more defense correspondent Kim Ji-yeon is here in the studio.
Welcome Ji-yeon.

Let’s start with this latest cluster infection in the military.

Sure.
According to Seoul’s defense ministry, some three dozen enlisted soldiers and officers in Pocheon have tested positive for COVID-19.
Three of them were first confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus last Sunday.
The rest were confirmed the following morning after members of the unit underwent testing for the virus.
And the number of confirmed patients is expected to grow as test results are still pending for nearly 250 service members in the unit.
So far, the military has reported 149 coronavirus cases, more than 200 service members are in isolation according to the health authorities’ guidelines, and more than 300 others are quarantined as a precaution in accordance with the military’s tougher guidance.

So what measures have been put in place at the base?

Currently, the defense ministry has imposed a complete ban on off-base movement for all service members stationed in Pocheon, and all the personnel in the area have been placed in quarantine.
All of their family members in the area have also been placed in home quarantine, and their children are banned from attending in-person classes at schools.

(Korean, Oct. 5) 10 5 ebriefing
“Symptoms are being monitored among civilians who recently visited the unit and those that have been in contact with the service members there are now in quarantine.”

To support those placed in quarantine, the ministry says it has dispatched a separate team to provide counseling, medical services and distribution of food supplies.

Have authorities identified the cause of the current contagion?

Not yet.
Authorities are tracing routes of infection in Pocheon including instances of an infection from those that have returned from vacation.
Eleven service members stationed there were found to have left base on vacation since late September with one of the three infected officers found to have visited Seoul on September 26th and 27th.
But, we’re still waiting for authorities to release more details on this possible infection route.
An emergency meeting of military staff were held virtually on Monday afternoon on this, which called for preventive measures in other bases.
Defense Minister Suh Wook has called for a strengthening of monitoring in social distancing guidelines and the wearing of face masks within the bases.
The defense minister has also ordered the installation of heating equipment in quarantine facilities inside the bases in case another wave of the virus breaks out during the cold seasons of fall and winter.

Now I hear what’s worrying about the recent Pocheon outbreak is that the infections occurred DESPITE the military’s heightened social distancing measures which were already in effect?

That’s right.
Eyebrows are being raised over the recent cluster infection, which occurred despite a widespread ban imposed on off-base activities and leaves unless authorized by a commanding officer, leading to suspicions of a major loophole.
The heightened measures were imposed during the special disease containment period right before the Chuseok holiday which was to last until next Sunday in line with the government’s nationwide level two social distancing guidelines.
Apart from restrictions on soldiers’ vacation and leaves off-base visiting high-risk facilities such as bars and pubs, saunas and internet cafes as well as social gatherings during off-duty hours were also banned under the measure.
But recent data suggests commissioned officers in managerial positions may have engaged in activities that goes against the strict guidelines.
According to data released by representative Ha Tae-keung of the People Power Party 245 commissioned military officers have violated some of these preventive measures with nearly half of them being caught attending social gatherings involving alcohol.
A majority of the violators were found to have penalized lightly such as suspension suggesting that lax penaliaties could have led to such an abberration.

Thank you, Ji-yeon for that report.

Reporter : jiyeonkim@arirang.co.kr

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