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Military asked to delay joint drills amid virus fears

ROK-US joint air force drills (Yonhap)
ROK-US joint air force drills (Yonhap)

The US military asked the South Korean military to postpone their joint exercises in the US due to potential exposure to the novel coronavirus that has killed 32 people there and sickened nearly 1,000. Korea has reported about 8,000 infections and 60 deaths.

Korea’s Army had planned to send 50 officers and intelligence analysts to the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California later this month to observe US military training.

The Army plans to push ahead with similar drills set for May and October, but said the COVID-19 outbreak could affect the schedule.

Meanwhile, Korea’s Navy and Marine Corps have indefinitely postponed joint drills with their US counterparts, whereas the Air Force said it was rethinking whether to go ahead with drills it has planned with the US.

Korea has put off joint military exercises with Mongolia and India as well. Joint anti-terrorism drills slated for late April in Mongolia and multistate maritime exercises India is hosting in late March were called off until further notice.

As of Wednesday, the Korean military reported that 38 of its service members had contracted the virus, though two have fully recovered. About 3,000 military personnel were still under quarantine.

US Forces Korea said it had nine COVID-19 patients, only one of whom was a service member. The others were administrative staff.

By Choi Si-young (