- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2020

U.S. military officials in South Korea will loosen anti-coronavirus restrictions for most parts of the country, except for the area around Seoul, the nation’s capital.

On Wednesday at 6 a.m., U.S. Forces Korea will lower its health protection conditions from “Charlie” to “Bravo” for most sections of the country. Activities that will be permitted included shopping, seated dining at restaurants and outdoor events so long as social distancing is still observed or mask-wearing if a 1- to 2-meter distance can’t be maintained, officials said.

Nightclubs, bars and other adults-only activities will remain off-limits until further notice, U.S. Forces Korea officials said.

South Korea reported 13 new cases over the weekend, following a recent spike of infections thought to be connected to nightclubs in Seoul’s entertainment district, known as Itaewon, The Associated Press reported.

South Korea, which has a population of slightly more than 51 million, was one of the first countries to be affected by coronavirus cases. The Korea Centers for Disease Control said the national tally for confirmed cases is 11,050 with 262 deaths. The AP also reported that 9,888 patients have recovered.

Despite the recent outbreak, U.S. Forces Korea said the conditions in the country are “favorable enough” to lower the health condition status to “moderate.”

Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said local officials did an “exceptional job” in effectively suppressing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“I have complete confidence that the recent outbreak will be quickly contained and suppressed due to their proactive and aggressive measures taken so far,” Gen. Abrams said in a statement. “Our combined efforts to effectively combat this virus have been outstanding and the time is right to lower our (health condition) level.”

About 25,000 American troops are based in Korea. U.S. military officials said they will continue to monitor the conditions in the peninsula after the restrictions are loosened.

A resurgence of the coronavirus will result in the health conditions “snapping back” to the more restrictive levels. Gen. Abrams said their top priority remains the protection of the force.

“We must balance the overall health, safety and protection of the force with mission accomplishment,” Gen. Abrams said.

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