A soldier locks the front gate of a military unit in Pocheon, north of Seoul, on Oct. 5, as COVID-19 infections broke out there. (Yonhap)
The military reported 33 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, the highest daily total among service members, as cluster infections broke out at an Army unit in the border town of Cheorwon amid the nationwide spread of the virus.
Of the total, 26 enlisted soldiers and five Army officers were from the same base in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, while an Army officer at another unit in the town was confirmed to have been infected and the other case is an Army officer based in the northeastern county of Hwacheon, according to the ministry.
The total cases at the Cheorwon unit rose to 37, and the figure is feared to grow as other members of the 200-strong unit are still awaiting their test results.
Monday's figure marks the highest daily record ever among the military population, according to the ministry data. The total number of confirmed cases among the military population grew to 263. The number has been on the rise since mid-November.
"Military and health authorities are working to learn the exact route of the infections. We are completely banning their movements, and taking necessary steps to prevent the further spread of the virus," a ministry official said.
Starting Tuesday, service members stationed in the greater Seoul area could be banned from vacationing upon the decision by their commanders, as the government decided to raise the social distancing level in the region by one notch to Level 2, the third-highest in the five-tier system, for two weeks.
"All military officers, regardless of where they are stationed, will be subject to Level 2, tougher rules," the ministry's deputy spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik told a regular briefing.
Under the guidance, they are ordered to postpone or cancel private and business meetings, and off-installation trips will be allowed only for inevitable purposes, such as buying daily necessities and going to see a doctor, Moon added.
Currently, 1,673 service members are in isolation in accordance with the health authorities' guidelines, and the military has quarantined an additional 1,832 people under stricter antivirus schemes of its own as a preventive step.
Nationwide, the country added 271 more COVID-19 cases, including 255 local infections, raising the total caseload to 31,004, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). (Yonhap)