South Korean infantry aim their weapons during a search exercise northeast of Seoul. Photo: AFP

Thirteen South Korean soldiers in a front-line military unit northeast of the capital, Seoul, tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday.

All members of their 220-strong unit have been since been quarantined on their base, Korea’s Yonhap news wire reported. The first two soldiers in the unit to test positive, after showing fever symptoms, had both been on recent leave.  

With tests underway across the unit, more infections may be confirmed after results come out, Yonhap noted.  

The un-named unit was based in Pocheon, a scenic township set in strategic high country about 45 kilometers northeast of Seoul. Pocheon, a staging area for DMZ patrols and activities, lies in a heavily militarized area.

It is just east of the city of Dongducheon, which hosts the largest group of US ground combat personnel on the peninsula.

With active-service troops living and working in close quarters, and with frontline units assigned to the DMZ frequently operating in extremely close-quarter environments such as trenches, bunkers and guard posts, the Pocheon case raises the specter of a major cluster.

However South Korea, with a population of 51 million, is widely regarded as a model case for virus control. The country has recorded only 13,879 infections and 297 fatalities.

This successful containment has been reflected in the country’s military, which has been largely unaffected. Only 71 cases have been recorded in the 579,000-man active-duty force to date, according to Yonhap.

Other militaries, however, have been less successful in defending themselves against the novel coronavirus.

On March 27, the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was forced to go no-operational in Guam after a cluster aboard, before returning to sea with reduced crewing on May 21.

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