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Military to test all incoming conscripts for coronavirus

Soldiers sing a marching song at this year’s first army basic training graduation in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Jan. 8. (Yonhap)
Soldiers sing a marching song at this year’s first army basic training graduation in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Jan. 8. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s military said Sunday that it will screen all new conscripts for the novel coronavirus, starting Monday for eight weeks, testing about 6,300 draftees a week.

Before trainee soldiers join boot camps, they will be swabbed and their specimens will be pooled together and tested for COVID-19 infections, the ministry said.

The decision comes in response to the recent surge in infections among young people linked to a cluster that emerged in Seoul’s nightclubs and bars in the Itaewon neighborhood.

Group tests were chosen over individual screenings due to the huge volume in need of scrutiny, according to the military.

If any group tests positive, then each sample will be individually tested until the one that tested positive is found.

Meanwhile, eighty-three draftees who had been to Itaeweon prior to enlistment tested negative for the pathogen. The military tested them right after it found out a staff sergeant working at the compound of the Defense Ministry in Seoul and a captain stationed in nearby Gyeonggi Province, both of whom had visited Itaewon, spread the pathogen to ten other colleagues at their bases.

The military has reported 51 infections, and 39 recoveries so far, while 214 people remain in quarantine.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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