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Military reports 8 COVID-19 cases linked to Itaewon

South Korea's Defense Ministry (Yonhap)
South Korea's Defense Ministry (Yonhap)

South Korea’s military is on heightened alert after eight of its personnel tested positive for COVID-19 in cases linked to Seoul’s Itaewon cluster of infections.

As of Monday afternoon, six members -- five officers and one soldier -- at Cyber Command were found to have contracted the coronavirus.

A staff sergeant there was initially found to be infected with the virus Thursday after having visited a club in Itaewon on May 2 in violation of the anti-virus rules the military imposed to curb infections. The remaining five are believed to have contracted the virus from him.

The military had everyone at the Command and anyone who had come into close contact with the sergeant tested for the virus. It also disinfected facilities around the compound located near the headquarters of the Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in central Seoul.

The staff sergeant said he had not been to those sites recently.

Meanwhile, two Army officers tested positive for the virus. An Army captain stationed in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, contracted the disease after visiting a club in Itaewon, also in violation of the rules not to engage in any unnecessary visits to public facilities outside the base.

The captain transmitted the pathogen to his colleague, a first lieutenant working at the same base.

The military asked all personnel who had visited public facilities including clubs and restaurants in Itaewon to get tested for the virus. Forty-nine came forward, of which 32 were trainee conscripts, 13 were officers and four were soldiers.

The military said the staff sergeant and captain who did not observe the anti-virus rules and spread the virus at their bases will be subject to penalties after recovery, along with others who had visited such places in Itaewon but did not come forward for tests.

Leave and travel off-base from the bases where infections surfaced were immediately suspended, but other installations nationwide were unaffected by the latest ban, which the military partially lifted Friday amid abating virus fears.

The military has 136 people in quarantine.

By Choi Si-young (