Two U.S. military bases in South Korea shelter in place as coronavirus curbs extended nationwide


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

Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, is the largest U.S. 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 a total of 18 people related to the U.S. base in Seoul tested positive this week so far. The command has been relatively successful in keeping infections down to a handful.

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

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

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 9 p.m., 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.

(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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