South Korea and the United States have briefly postponed their annual joint military drills after a South Korean officer tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The drills will start with a two-day delay on Tuesday “considering the COVID-19 situation,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Sunday.
The annual joint drills had been scheduled to begin on Sunday, but were pushed back after a South Korean army officer who was required to join the maneuvers was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported.
This year’s drills, which are scheduled to end on August 28, will focus on a “combined defense posture,” while exercises for the transition of wartime operational control on the Korean Peninsula will be “partly conducted,” the joint chiefs said in a statement.
Springtime military drills between American and South Korean forces were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The joint military drills, which usually begin in August, involve tens of thousands of soldiers from both sides. They also include computerized simulations of war scenarios and field training.
This year, however, the US troops based at home will not join the maneuvers amid the coronavirus-related restrictions placed on the travel of American military personnel to the Korean Peninsula.
According to figures released by American media, there have been around 150 COVID-19 infections, since February, among around 25,000 US soldiers deployed to South Korea.
Annual Seoul-Washington drills usually draw angry reactions from North Korea, which sees them as a rehearsal for war and invasion.
US President Donald Trump had formerly questioned the value of the joint military exercises with South Korea, promising to end the war games during his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018.
Washington-Pyongyang talks, however, collapsed and the drills have continued.