Pentagon races to counter coronavirus threat to military forces

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The Pentagon is taking care to avoid a slide in national security and preparedness in the wake of the constant global spread of the coronavirus that has prevented the Department of Defense (DOD) from suspending a military exercise, putting in quarantine fleets and restrict troop movements.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the DOD last week canceled a joint military exercise with South Korea, restricted access to public spaces at military facilities in Italy and ordered all ships that have visited countries in the Pacific region to stay at sea for 14 days, essentially a self-quarantine.

The US Central Command has also ordered all non-essential travel to the Persian Gulf region to be stopped.

Such measures aim to “minimize any kind of effect this virus has on military readiness,” a defense official told The Hill.

“What the DOD is trying to do is take careful precautionary measures to prevent this stuff from affecting the force,” the source said.

No deployments have yet been delayed due to concerns over the virus, but postponing military exercises increases the likelihood that troop readiness will suffer.

Defense Secretary Marc EsperMark EsperMilley and China – What the Senate Really Needs to Know Biden and Trump are fighting over who is to blame for the overnight defense in Afghanistan: Pentagon chief defends Milley after criticism of Trump’s book | Discusses Critical Race Theory | Senior general says Taliban has ‘strategic impetus’ in war MORE on Wednesday told lawmakers that the Pentagon’s efforts to reduce the virus “continue to evolve rapidly.”

Leadership is “making sure this doesn’t get out of hand,” Esper said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Pentagon chiefs are also investigating whether the building may need more dollars to handle the spread of the virus, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers at the same hearing. .

“It’s spreading and we can’t give you a definitive answer as to whether we’ll need additional resources or not,” Milley said alongside Esper. “We are taking all appropriate measures at this time. We are making estimates, so we owe you answers.

Since the end of January, the Pentagon has sought to mitigate the risk of the deadly virus spreading through the ranks. More than 84,000 people have been infected with the virus – the majority in China, the source of the virus – although it has spread to 55 countries, including the United States.

At least 67 cases of the coronavirus were recorded in the United States on Saturday, with one death in Washington state. A US serviceman in South Korea as well as his spouse have also tested positive for the disease.

The ministry first issued guidelines for its staff and military on January 30, which informed the forces on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease.

Shortly after, on February 2, US military officials in South Korea announced that a 14-day self-quarantine had been imposed on US troops who had recently visited China.

The Pentagon has since warned that the virus “is a growing threat to the health protection of forces” to DOD personnel, according to a memo from February 25 the Acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Matthew Donovan.

At military installations around the world, DOD personnel and their families find themselves constrained by the new threat.

U.S. European Command Chief General Tod Wolters told Senate lawmakers on Tuesday that in Germany – home to the largest U.S. military presence in Europe with more than 33,000 troops – an expected increase in cases of coronavirus could lead to restriction of troop movements.

In Vicenza, Italy, home to 6,000-7,000 American soldiers and thousands of family members, the The army has closed base schools, daycares, churches and gymnasiums as a precaution as the disease spreads across the country.

Meanwhile, the US Central Command released a memo to military personnel in Saudi Arabia on Thursday banning all non-essential travel, including “going to the mall, the movies, other crowded places or facilities / establishments. Recreation”.

In addition, all “holidays and free travel” within the central command theater are suspended. For example, “personnel assigned to a unit in Riyadh [Saudi Arabia] cannot take a pass / leave / trip to UAE or Jeddah for the weekend, ”the memo reads.

And the Navy’s 7th Fleet, its largest fleet, has been ordered to stay at sea for 14 days “to allow sufficient time for surveillance and follow-up” for possible cases of the virus.

“Out of caution, the Pacific Fleet is implementing additional mitigation measures to prevent sailors from contracting COVID-19 and to monitor sailors who have visited high-risk areas,” a defense official said at The Hill.

The 14-day requirement is waived if the vessel returns to the same port from which it most recently departed.

The official added that at this time, there is no indication that a member of the Navy has contracted coronavirus.

Despite ongoing efforts to curb the coronavirus, lawmakers still fear the military’s response may be insufficient.

Several House lawmakers pressured Esper during Wednesday’s hearing on how the department is preparing to play its role in a possible coronavirus pandemic.

And Senate Armed Services Committee member Thom Tillis (RN.C.) pressed Friday to the Pentagon chief on how the DOD would protect military personnel and their families from disease.

“I have questions about the current state of [Defense Department] infection prevention and response efforts, ”Tillis wrote in a letter to Esper. “This global epidemic is worrying and presents a persistent and uncertain threat. The concerns and concerns that I hear from our military personnel and their families are justified. “

The Pentagon’s message on the virus threat contrasts sharply with that of the White House, which insisted the virus is under control, even as the World Health Organization called it a high threat on Friday. level.

President TrumpPresident Donald TrumpUkraine compares UN to “retired superhero” Collins for endorsing LePage in Maine Gov.’s return candidacy Heller won’t say if Biden won election MORE Wednesday insisted that it is not “inevitable” that the virus will spread across the United States, as health experts warned, and later at a rally in Carolina on Friday. South said that “Democrats are politicizing” the virus, which is “their new hoax.”

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney also downplayed the virus’s threat to the public, saying on Friday the media was fueling panic in order to hurt the president’s chances of re-election.

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