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Flu halts training by nation’s reserve force

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Nov 05,2009
Reserve soldiers wearing masks go through drills yesterday in Naegok-dong, southern Seoul. The Defense Ministry announced it would stop training for reserve troops from today in a measure to forestall the spread of the new flu. [YONHAP]
In response to the ongoing flu scare, Korea’s military has suspended reserve forces’ training and will restrict leaves for active-duty soldiers and officers.

The Ministry of National Defense announced yesterday a series of measures designed to prevent the spread of the A(H1N1) influenza. According to the ministry, the training for reserve forces will be suspended starting today until the end of this month.

Soldiers will be restricted from signing up for leave and visits by their family members will also be kept to a minimum while the national flu alert remains at the top red-alert level.

Jeong Hwan-deok, who handles hygiene and welfare-related issues at the ministry, said the ministry has prepared these measures to help minimize flu spread to soldiers, who may be vulnerable to human-to-human infection in the tight confines of their barracks.

Korean soldiers serving their mandatory two-year term are given three regular leaves. Jeong said at a briefing that soldiers will still be able to apply for their first leave as privates and their final leave as sergeants, but that their second leave, which soldiers normally use as corporals, will remain suspended until the flu alert level is lowered.

Jeong added, however, that individual units will be able to exercise their own discretion in handing out leaves.

“The units will take into account their location or the number of flu patients on their base,” he said. “It will be up to commanders to exercise flexibility.”

With the suspension of reserve training, the ministry said about 300,000 reserve troops will have failed to complete their annual mandatory exercises.

A ministry official in charge of reserve forces said the ministry has not yet finalized plans on what to do with the reserve soldiers. Reserve training sessions take place yearly from March to November.

A ministry official said the nation had never previously restricted regular leaves for soldiers but individual commands have done so for operations-related reasons.

The ministry was also concerned about the effect its measures would have on soldiers’ morale.

“We understand that limiting opportunities to go home for a break may cause some stress among our young soldiers,” Jeong said. “But given the dangers of the flu, we made a difficult but inevitable choice. We will try to improve facilities on base that could help soldiers relieve their stress.”

In another flu-related development yesterday, the Korea Food and Drug Administration approved flu vaccination for children aged between 3 and 18 starting next Wednesday.

Those under age 9 will be given two shots to help develop enough antibodies to fight the illness.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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