Defense chief apologizes over mass COVID-19 outbreak among Cheonghae unit members

오석민 / 2021-07-20 11:50:02
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defense chief-Cheonghae unit
▲ A South Korean Air Force plane arrives at an unidentified African airport on July 18, 2021, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. South Korea hastily sent two KC-330 multipurpose aerial tankers to bring home all of the South Korean service members belonging to the Cheonghae Unit on an anti-piracy mission off the coast of Africa, right after the unit reported mass COVID-19 infection onboard. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

defense chief-Cheonghae unit

Defense chief apologizes over mass COVID-19 outbreak among Cheonghae unit members

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, July 20 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister Suh Wook apologized Tuesday for the military's failure to prevent cluster COVID-19 infections among sailors of the Cheonghae naval unit on an anti-piracy mission in waters off Africa.

The apology came a day after virus tests showed that 247, or 82 percent, of the 301-member unit were infected, the worst-ever infection cluster among service members blamed on poor initial responses, such as giving only cold medicine to a sailor who first developed symptoms.

The defense ministry also came under fire for excluding the unit from its vaccination campaign. Officials said the unit left for Africa before the vaccination began and it was difficult to transfer vaccines out of the country under contracts with vaccine suppliers and over safety concerns.

"I'd like to extend my deepest apologies ... for failing to more carefully take care of Cheonghae Unit members, who have devoted themselves to the nation and the people out at sea, resulting in many being infected. I feel heavy responsibility," Suh said in a message to the people.

Admitting that the government failed to do enough to vaccinate the troops, he vowed to come up with and thoroughly implement follow-up measures to ensure the safety of troops overseas.

All the members are scheduled to return home later in the day aboard aerial tankers, about a month ahead of schedule, and will be sent to military hospitals and other treatment facilities reserved for COVID-19 patients.

(END)

(C) Yonhap News Agency. All Rights Reserved

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