U.S., South Korea postpone joint drills as virus cases top 1,500

Feb 27 , 2020. 37 minutes ago – 11:54 KYODO NEWS

SEOUL – The United States and South Korea will postpone, until further notice, joint military exercises planned for the spring due to the spread of a new coronavirus, the two sides said Thursday.

South Korea has been hit by a rapid rise in infections, with the total topping 1,500 as more than 300 new cases were reported Thursday.

An official of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the postponement was made for the safety of both South Korean and U.S. soldiers, and for the need to contain the epidemic after the nation elevated the alert status for COVID-19 to its highest level.

A number of South Korean military personnel have contracted the virus, while the U.S. military said Wednesday one of its soldiers serving in South Korea had tested positive for the virus, the first case of infection among U.S. service members.

With 334 new cases reported Thursday, the number of infections has reached 1,595, with the overall death toll unchanged at 12, according to the Health and Welfare Ministry.

Of the new cases, 307 were in the southeastern city of Daegu, at the center of the rapid transmission of the pneumonia-causing virus.

Most cases confirmed in Daegu are linked to a branch of a minor Christian sect known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The surge in infections in South Korea has prompted some countries to restrict travel to and from the country. Japan has banned entry by foreign nationals who have visited Daegu and the neighboring county of Cheongdo, also hit hard by the outbreak.

On Wednesday, Vice Foreign Minister Cho Se Young summoned Koji Tomita, Japanese Ambassador to South Korea, to call on Japan to withdraw the measure, the minister said in an interview on local TV on Wednesday night.

During their meeting in Seoul, Cho conveyed his view that “excessive” entry restrictions are not desirable, he said, adding the South Korean government is working hard to contain the outbreak.

The ambassador said, for his part, that Japan’s measure is the “minimum necessary” to ensure the safety of its citizens, according to Cho.