Gen. Robert Abrams (Yonhap)
US Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday it has commissioned civilian labs in South Korea to conduct coronavirus tests on samples from American troops stationed outside of the Korean Peninsula as it was unable to handle all outside test requests.
A vernacular daily reported earlier in the day that 72 American servicemembers have been confirmed to have the virus in tests conducted by a South Korean research institute in Seoul at the request of the US military hospital at Camp Humphreys.
The paper cited USFK saying that the servicemembers were not part of USFK but "soldiers who contribute to South Korea's security." The daily raised speculation that they could be sailors on the nuclear-powered submarine USS Theodore Roosevelt or servicemembers stationed in Okinawa or Guam.
USFK acknowledged outsourcing coronavirus tests to local laboratories.
"USFK agreed to help other off-peninsula military services conduct test samples as we have the capability to test 80-100 daily, but are probably overwhelmed due to the recent run of contractor confirmed cases. So we've outsourced them to the ROK labs," USFK said in a statement sent to Yonhap News Agency.
USFK did not provide further details, including how many samples were brought in from outside the Korean Peninsula or how many local labs have been involved.
In response to controversy over bringing in virus samples, health authorities said that several foreign countries have asked local institutions for coronavirus testing, and some cases have been approved as long as they do not affect the country's disease control system.
"To minimize any possible impacts on our quarantine system, we've issued an administrative order, which went into effect on April 1, which requires local labs to report such requests to the authorities in advance for consultations," Jeong Eun-kyeong, director-general of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), said in a regular briefing.
Foreign entities are not required to notify local labs of personal information of the testees, she said. (Yonhap)