SEOUL, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- South Korea and the United States decided on Thursday to postpone their joint springtime military drills on worries about the soaring COVID-19 cases in the past week.
The Combined Forces Command (CFC) and South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a joint statement that the first-half computer-simulated combined command post exercise would be postponed until further notice in light of Seoul's decision to raise the virus alert to the highest level.
The statement was read by senior officials from the CFC and the JCS at Seoul's defense ministry headquarters.
It was the first time that the allies put off the joint annual military drills because of health-relevant issues. The drills were originally scheduled for early March.
The decision came amid the surge in recent days of the COVID-19 cases in South Korea. As of Thursday morning, the number of infected patients totaled 1,595, up 334 from the previous day.
The virus infection soared in the past week, with 1,230 new cases reported on Feb. 19-26. The country raised its four-tier virus alert to the highest "red" level on Sunday.
The statement noted that the decision was made at the suggestion by South Korea's JCS Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki and was accepted by CFC Commander Gen. Robert Abrams to support the virus containment efforts and prioritize the safety of South Korean and U.S. troops.
As of Thursday morning, 20 soldiers and one military civilian worker of South Korea tested positive for COVID-19.
Out of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, the first confirmed case was reported on Wednesday in the southeastern county of Chilgok.
The combined forces of South Korea and the United States had annually staged large-scale springtime war games, including the Key Resolve command post exercise and the Foal Eagle field training drill, until 2018.
The war games were replaced in 2019 with the Dong Maeng command post exercises without field maneuvers to support diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.