How are military forces responding to COVID-19?



  • Since the military often operate in tight spaces and share living spaces, they are a hot spot for coronavirus infections.
  • With armed forces deployed across Europe to patrol locked streets, disinfect public spaces and support border control, it is essential that transmission of the virus is minimized.
  • From mass testing to self-isolation of those infected, this is how armed forces across Europe are battling the coronavirus.

Military forces across Europe have scaled back operations and imposed stricter rules on personnel in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus among personnel who often live and work nearby, making them more vulnerable to infections.

Preventing the proliferation of the virus among the military is important both for national security and because specialized units from the military, navy and air force are being enlisted to help governments fight it. the virus in many countries.

Germany has mobilized 15,000 troops to help local authorities deal with the crisis, for example, while Poland has activated thousands of soldiers to patrol locked streets, disinfect hospitals and support border control, his defense ministry said.

Events aboard the US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt have highlighted the risk of the disease spreading rapidly among personnel. The nuclear-powered vessel with 5,000 crew members is now docked in Guam, US territory, so that anyone can be tested.

The US Navy relieved the ship’s captain of command after writing a letter raising concerns about the lack of appropriate measures to contain the highly infectious disease.

In France, Italy and Spain, among the countries hardest hit by the epidemic, military operations have been reduced or, in some cases, suspended.

Germany changed the rules, without a roll call or troop rally and quarantine of some staff, while the Turkish armed forces imposed social distancing in mess halls and dormitories, among other measures.

Turkey said on Sunday it was limiting troop movements in Syria as coronavirus cases increased.

“We have had to cancel non-essential maritime missions and deployments, or modify their scope,” French Army Command spokesman Colonel Frédéric Barbry said, adding that there was not yet had an impact on “operational capacity”.

French Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz no longer stop at regional ports outside Abu Dhabi, and flight operations have been affected, with exercises canceled and delays in relief from planes in some theaters, said Barbry.

In France, 600 soldiers have contracted the virus, the Minister of Defense said on Friday, while four soldiers serving in Operation Barkhane against Islamist militants in West Africa are also infected.

“There will be an impact of this crisis, not only on the resources available for defense and security, but on how those resources are distributed,” said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, a group of reflection.

Testing of military personnel is essential, but it is unclear how widespread it is. Britain and Turkey declined to say how many servicemen have been tested or contracted for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Italy’s Defense Ministry gave information only on the officers, saying Chief of Staff Salvatore Farina and a dozen others tested positive. A lieutenant colonel has died.

In Spain, second behind the United States in the number of infections at more than 130,000, the defense ministry said 230 people had tested positive, while some 3,000 servicemen are in self-isolation.

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Members of the military are seen outside the Excel Center in London as it prepares to become NHS Nightingale Hospital.

Image: REUTERS / Henry Nicholls

Spain’s Chief of Staff Air Force General Miguel Angel Villarroya said no naval operations were affected by the virus, but the replacement of personnel serving in Operation Atalanta of the EU off the Horn of Africa had been cut off.

“We had to postpone and repatriate the personnel who were to replace those of the mission because we found a person infected with the virus,” he told a press conference.

A spokesman for the German Defense Ministry said around 250 soldiers have been infected, of which less than 10 have been hospitalized.

Among them are a handful of soldiers serving in a NATO mission in Lithuania, where they act as a deterrent against Russian interference. A military spokesperson said maneuvers had been suspended due to the coronavirus, even though the primary focus of the mission remained in place.

German troops heading to Afghanistan are first placed in 14 days of self-isolation, while four Italian soldiers deployed to Kabul tested positive upon arrival. Some 200 of the 800 Italian troops deployed in Iraq are returning home.

But as infections can start to peak in Europe, a key concern is ensuring that military personnel seconded to fight the virus are not themselves infected.

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A military field hospital for non-coronavirus patients at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle, Washington.

Image: REUTERS / Jason Redmond

British authorities have been criticized for shortcomings in testing, with only around 65,000 tests carried out as of April 2 on a population of 66 million. The Secretary of Health has promised 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

Military units are already helping with the logistics and distribution of medical supplies across the country, but it is not known exactly how many have been tested.

“If the military is widely employed, then about 20% of them will have it,” said Jack Watling, senior land forces researcher at RUSI. “And if they start deploying the military to sites, they’ll have to use testing to make sure they’re not spreading the virus.”



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