In a late Wednesday release, the US Forces Korea indicated that the move was “not taken lightly,” and that despite the decision, the alliance between the two countries remains “ironclad and unbreakable.”
The announcement to delay the drills was made jointly by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US military in South Korea, Politico reported. According to Kim Jun Rak, a spokesperson at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the drills that were supposed to take place in the first half of the year have been postponed until further notice.
According to a report by Stars & Stripes, the US military officials also indicated that a South Korean employee in the southeastern city of Daegu has been infected with the virus.
A 23-year-old American soldier stationed in South Korea became the first US service member confirmed to be infected with the virus on Wednesday. According to Politico, South Korea has reported 21 cases of the virus among its military personnel.
The infected US soldier was stationed at Camp Carroll. After exhibiting symptoms, he was transported to the Camp Humphreys garrison located near the Anjeong Ri and Pyeongtaek metropolitan areas and placed in an isolation unit.
The US State Department has asked Americans to reconsider traveling to South Korea while the Indo-Pacific Command has prohibited all nonessential service members and Defense Department-affiliated civilians from traveling to South Korea.
“A novel coronavirus is causing an outbreak of COVID-19 in South Korea. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization determined the COVID-19 outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The South Korean government has reported cases of the COVID-19 in the country and has upgraded its response level to ‘grave’, its highest response level. On February 24, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 Travel Warning Avoid Non-essential Travel for South Korea,” the US State Department wrote in a February 26 advisory.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Forces Korea, a sub-unified command of Indo-Pacific Command which manages about 28,500 American military personnel in South Korea, has designated the coronavirus risk level as high and has barred soldiers from visiting off-base establishments.
The latest data by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering reveals that there are at least 1,766 cases of the coronavirus in South Korea as of Thursday. In addition, 13 deaths in South Korea have been linked to the virus. The Wall Street Journal reports that about four-fifths of all the cases in South Korea are in Daegu, which is the county’s fourth-largest city.