SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) – An American soldier stationed in South Korea has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, commanders said Wednesday, February 26, as the country’s case total jumped again.
The soldier, a 23-year-old man, is the first infection among the 28,500 troops Washington stations in the South to defend it against the nuclear-armed North.
Based at Camp Carroll 30 km (miles) north of Daegu, the serviceman has been put in self-quarantine at his home, U.S. Forces Korea said, adding it was conducting “contact tracing” to determine whether other soldiers had been exposed.
Meanwhile, South Korean authorities reported 169 new infections, taking the overall national tally to 1,146, by far the largest outside China.
An 11th person has died of the disease, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said – a Mongolian man in his 30s who became the first foreign national to fall victim to the outbreak.
Yonhap news agency reported that he had been in hospital in South Korea awaiting a liver transplant.
The vast majority – 90% – of the new infections were in Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city and the epicenter of the outbreak, and the neighboring province of North Gyeongsang.
Between them they account for the vast bulk of the national total.
The streets of Daegu – which has a population of 2.5 million – have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.
Authorities urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.
But they say they are not considering putting the city in lockdown the way China did for Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.
In Daegu, Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun told a meeting the government would “mobilise all resources and means” to try to control the outbreak.
Chung is leading the government response in Daegu and said it was seeking to return the city to normality within four weeks, adding this week was the “pivotal time to determine victory or defeat” in the fight against coronavirus.
South Korea has an advanced medical system, a free press and a strong culture of public accountability, and observers say that its health statistics can be treated with confidence.
Most of the country’s infections are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult that commands around 200,000 followers.
A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu before being diagnosed.
KCDC director Jung Eun-kyeong advised Shincheonji followers to refrain from going outside “as much as possible.”
With public criticism growing, Shincheonji’s founder Lee Man-hee, aged 88, said the group would provide the government a list of all its members to enable them to be tested for the virus.