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U.S. soldier is infected with coronavirus as South Korean virus cases jump again

A U.S. military policeman and South Korean security person check visitors Feb. 20 at U.S. Army base Camp Walker in Daegu, South Korea.
A U.S. military policeman and South Korean security person check visitors Feb. 20 at the U.S. Army’s Camp Walker in Daegu, South Korea.
(Kim Hyun-tae / Associated Press)

The number of new virus infections in South Korea jumped again Wednesday and the U.S. military reported its first case among its soldiers based in the Asian country, with his case and many others connected to a southeastern city with an illness cluster.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 134 of the 169 new cases were confirmed in Daegu, where the government has been mobilizing public health tools to contain the virus. Another 19 cases were in neighboring North Gyeongsang province towns.

After the CDC issued an advisory warning against non-essential travel, the university is calling back students from South Korea and part of Italy.

A U.S. military statement said the 23-year-old soldier was in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. He had been based in Camp Carroll in a town near Daegu, and visited both Carroll and nearby Camp Walker in recent days, according to the statement.

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South Korean authorities and U.S. military health professionals were tracing his contacts to determine if other people may have been exposed.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. United States Forces Korea previously said a widowed dependent had the virus, the first case involving an individual linked to the U.S. forces in Korea. South Korea’s 600,000-member military has reported 18 cases and placed thousands of soldiers in quarantine as a precaution.

Col. Edward Ballanco, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, said two bowling alleys at Camp Walker and Camp Carroll and a golf course at Camp Walker were closed after the soldier’s case was confirmed. All restaurants at the bases, and also Camp Henry and Camp George in Daegu, could now provide only takeout meals, with soldiers and family members prohibited from dining there, he said.

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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 channeling medical personnel, protective suits and other supplies to Daegu, and there are concerns that the local hospitals are being 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.


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