Soldiers close the front gate of an Army boot camp in the northern county of Yeoncheon on Wednesday, after 60 newly enlisted soldiers tested positive for the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)
The military decided to temporarily ban all troops from vacationing and taking off-installation trips after cluster infections were reported at an Army boot camp amid a nationwide spike in virus cases, the defense ministry said Thursday.
Until Dec. 7, all troops will be subject to tightened social distancing rules in barracks, with vacationing and off-installation visits to be suspended starting Friday, according to the ministry.
Officers are restricted from having private meetings, while in-person religious gatherings and business trips are also banned.
"Troops who violate the rules, resulting in a COVID-19 infection or its spread to others will be strongly reprimanded," the ministry said in a release.
The announcement came one day after dozens of newly enlisted soldiers tested positive for the new coronavirus at an Army boot camp in the central border town of Yeoncheon.
As of Thursday, 66 newly enlisted soldiers and four officers have been confirmed to have been infected with the virus at the unit.
The soldiers underwent the virus test after one of their colleagues, who joined the military on Nov. 10, tested positive for the virus Wednesday after showing symptoms the previous day.
Officials said he tested negative in an initial test conducted upon his entrance to the camp.
Separately, four more Army officers, one soldier, and a civilian officer for the Army have tested positive for the virus in Goyang, north of Seoul, the southwestern city of Iksan and the border counties of Cheorwon and Inje, raising the total infections reported among the military population to 342.
Defense Minister Suh Wook presided over an emergency meeting with top commanders Wednesday and ordered stronger responses to the outbreak while maintaining a firm readiness posture, according to the ministry.
Nationwide, South Korea reported 583 new virus cases, marking the first time in over eight months for the figure to surpass 500.
The total caseload rose to 32,318. (Yonhap)