More than 80 percent of the 301 sailors on an anti-piracy mission to Africa have been confirmed to have the virus.
South Korea will air dozens of sailors on a warship involved in anti-piracy operations in the seas off Africa after the military confirmed its largest outbreak of coronavirus, the joint chief of staff (JCS) said in a statement. the worst outbreak in military history.
A total of 247 sailors from the 301-strong Cheonghae unit tested positive, the Yonhap news agency said on Monday.
The unit first reported six cases of COVID-19 last week, prompting virus testing of the entire crew, he added.
Most of the sailors are isolated aboard the ship, Munmu the Great, although 16 have been sent to hospital for treatment.
All crew members are expected to return home on Tuesday after the government sent two carrier planes to pick them up.
The destroyer, which is part of an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz, will be piloted back home by a substitute team of sailors. Crews usually rotate every six months.
The outbreak is the worst since the army reported its first COVID-19 case in February last year, amid growing criticism of the armed forces’ response to the disease within its ranks.
No one in the unit was vaccinated, as he had left South Korea before the country began its inoculation campaign.
“We will review and complement military guidelines on overseas troop management, including how to respond to infectious diseases,” Yonhap told a Defense Ministry official.
Infections appear to have started after the ship docked in an African port in late June to load supplies, Yonhap said.
A sailor showed symptoms of a cold, a day after the destroyer left port. He was not tested for COVID-19 and was not quarantined.
After a dozen others developed similar symptoms about a week later, authorities conducted COVID-19 tests with rapid test kits, rather than more accurate PCR tests, which found them negative. It was only when six of the samples were sent for PCR testing that the first cases were confirmed, according to officials.
According to the ministry, approximately 73% of the approximately 1,300 troops on missions abroad have been completely vaccinated.