More than 80 percent of the 301 sailors on anti-piracy missions outside Africa have been confirmed to have the virus.
South Korea will transport dozens of sailors from a warship involved in anti-piracy operations in the seas off Africa after the army confirmed its biggest coronavirus outbreak, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Staff (JCS) in the worst ever fire on the military.
A total of 247 sailors from the 301-person Cheonghae unit tested positive, Yonhap news agency quoted JCS as saying on Monday.
The unit reported for the first time six cases of COVID-19 last week, which led to virus testing throughout the equipment, 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 scheduled to return home Tuesday after the government sent two aircraft carriers 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 into its home by a team of replacement sailors. The equipment is usually rotated 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 in its ranks.
No one in the unit has been vaccinated since they had left South Korea before the country began its inoculation campaign.
“We will review and complement military guidelines on the management of overseas troops, including how to respond to infectious diseases,” Yonhap was quoted as saying by a defense minister.
The infection appears to have started after the ship docked in an African port in late June to load supplies, Yonhap said.
A sailor showed symptoms of cold, a day after the destroyer left the port. It has not been tested for COVID-19 and has not been quarantined.
After a dozen other similar symptoms developed about a week later, authorities conducted COVID-19 tests with rapid test kits, instead of more accurate PCR tests, which found them all negative. It was only when six of the samples were sent for PCR tests that the first cases were confirmed, according to officials.
About 73 percent of the approximately 1,300 troops on overseas missions have now been completely vaccinated according to the ministry.