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South Korea to evacuate anti-piracy unit after COVID-19 outbreak

South Korea to evacuate anti-piracy unit after COVID-19 outbreak
South Korea is to send aerial tankers to the Cheonghae Unit, currently on mission aboard the 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer, after 80 out of 300 troops showed symptoms similar to COVID-19. File Photo by Francis R. Malasig/EPA-EFE

July 16 (UPI) -- South Korea is to airlift all troops of the anti-piracy Cheonghae unit from the coast of Somalia after six people on board a destroyer tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The country's defense ministry said Friday that Seoul will send aerial tankers to the Cheonghae Unit, currently on a mission aboard the 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer, after 80 out of 300 troops showed symptoms similar to COVID-19, Yonhap reported.

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The military said the anti-piracy unit left South Korea in February. The troops left in February unvaccinated, but some members were able to receive vaccinations overseas beginning in May, according to Herald Business.

The defense ministry expressed regret after local press reports suggested the government "did not take any measures" to prevent the spread of the virus on the destroyer, the report said.

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Seoul defended its decision on vaccines for the unit, citing changes in guidelines. Health authorities initially said the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines need to be stored at minus 79 degrees Celsius, but in June global guidelines confirmed the vaccine could be stored in a refrigerator at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for up to one month.

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In February, South Korean troops under age 30 whose only option was the Pfizer vaccine could not access it either before or during mission partly due to Pfizer storage requirements that later were revised, according to Seoul.

Soldiers also were tested before beginning their missions. According to News 1, soldiers underwent COVID-19 tests twice, on Jan. 25 and Feb. 5. Each individual also was banned from contact with others for two weeks after the first test, the report said.

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Troops on board began to show symptoms June 28, which included fever and coughing, according to reports.

The 31st batch of the Cheonghae Unit contributes to international efforts to maritime security in the Gulf of Aden. The unit includes a team of South Korean SEALs.

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