South Korea, U.S. delay military drills over COVID-19 concerns

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South Korea and the United States will start their annual joint military drills on Tuesday, in what local media said was a two-day delay after a South Korean officer tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The drills will start on Tuesday, “considering the COVID-19 situation,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Sunday.

The training, which had been scheduled to begin on Sunday, was pushed back after the positive test on Friday of the Army officer, who was to have taken part, Yonhap News Agency said.

The combined drills are closely monitored by North Korea, which calls them a “rehearsal for war.” They have been reduced in recent years to facilitate U.S. negotiations aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes.

This year’s exercises will be scaled down, not mobilising U.S.-based troops amid COVID-19 restrictions on the travel of U.S. personnel to South Korea.

This year’s programme, running to Aug. 28, will focus on a “combined defence 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.

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This could delay President Moon Jae-in’s plan to take over wartime operational control from the United States before his term ends in 2022, experts say.

South Korea and the United States had cancelled their springtime drills due to the pandemic.

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