US and South Korea postpone their annual military drills over coronavirus fears after outbreak infected soldiers from both countries

Thursday, February 27, 2020
By Paul Martin

Military drills between South Korean and US suspended over coronavirus fears
Viral outbreak sees armed forces from both countries infected and bases closed
One US and 20 South Korean soldiers tested positive for the new coronavirus
Joint drills planned for the first half of this year will be put off until further notice

27 February 2020

he South Korean and US militaries announced today that they were postponing joint drills due to concern about an outbreak of coronavirus that has infected soldiers in both countries.

A viral outbreak has seen armed forces infected, put many troops in quarantine and closed base facilities. As a result their annual maneuvers have been suspended in a bid to limit the spread of virus.

Twenty South Korean soldiers and one American service member in South Korea have tested positive for the new coronavirus, which has infected about 1,600 people in the Asian country, the second largest outbreak outside mainland China.

It comes as the number of infections inside China – the source of the outbreak – was for the first time overtaken by fresh cases elsewhere.

In a joint news conference, South Korean and US military officers said their joint drills planned for the first half of this year will be put off until further notice.

South Korean military chief Park Han-ki proposed the delay out of concerns for troop safety.

Robert Abrams, the commander of the US military in South Korea, accepted Park’s suggestion based on the severity of the virus outbreak, said Kim Joon Rak, a spokesman at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lee Peters, a US military spokesman, said the postponement decision ‘was not taken lightly’ and that two countries’ alliance remains ‘ironclad and unbreakable.’

‘Despite the postponement of combined training, the ROK-US alliance remains committed to providing a credible military deterrence and maintaining a robust combined defense posture to protect the ROK [Republic of Korea] against any threat.’

South Korea boasts a 600,000-strong military, while the US has 28,500 troops in the country and those troops are at particular risk due to the close quarters at the bases where they are stationed.

In recent days, South Korea suspended some unilateral field training, placed 9,570 troops under quarantine and banned most of its enlisted soldiers from leaving their bases.

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