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South Korean anti-piracy patrol in Gulf of Aden disrupted as 80% of warship crew test positive for Covid-19

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South Korea’s military has experienced its worst mass coronavirus infection to date, with most of the crew of a destroyer on an anti-piracy mission testing positive for coronavirus.

The outbreak occurred at the anti-piracy escort taskforce operating off the Horn of Africa, known as the Cheonghae Unit.

“Test results on all 301 crewmembers of the unit showed that 247 tested positive and 50 negative. The samples of four individuals were undecipherable,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in statement on Monday, as quoted by Yonhap.

Sixteen sailors are being treated at local hospitals, while the rest have been quarantined on their destroyer, Munmu the Great. The army sent two transport planes to bring all of them home.

The crewmembers are expected to return to South Korea on Tuesday, one month ahead of schedule. A replacement crew of around 200 fully vaccinated sailors will then bring the destroyer to its homeport.

JCS said that that all members of the unit were tested after six cases were recorded last week. 

No one aboard the destroyer has been vaccinated, because the ship left the country in early February – before South Korea’s vaccination program was launched later that month. South Korean media described the incident as the worst mass infection among the country’s service members.

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Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said that it is sometimes hard to vaccinate military personnel on overseas missions.

“We’ve seen some difficulties in sending vaccines by aircraft and in other distribution procedures,” he said, adding that officials need to consider if they can ensure the safety of vaccination aboard a military vessel.

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