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As infections balloon, virus squeezes Europe’s armed forces

By Newsdesk
April 07, 2020

PARIS: Military forces across Europe have scaled back operations and imposed stricter rules on personnel to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus among staff who often live and work in close quarters, making them more vulnerable to infection.

Preventing the virus’ proliferation among the military is important both for national security and because specialist army, navy and airforce units are being drafted in to help governments tackle the virus in many countries. Germany mobilised 15,000 soldiers to help local authorities tackle the crisis, for example, while Poland activated thousands of troops to patrol streets under lockdown, disinfect hospitals and support border control, its defence ministry said.

Events aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt have highlighted the risk of the disease spreading rapidly among personnel. The nuclear-powered vessel with 5,000 crew is now docked in Guam, a U.S. territory, so everyone can be tested. The U.S. Navy has relieved the ship’s captain of his command after he wrote a letter flagging concerns about a lack of proper measures to contain the highly infectious disease.

In France, Italy and Spain, among the nations hardest hit by the outbreak, military operations have been curtailed or in some cases suspended. Germany has changed rules, with no roll-calls or mustering of troops and the quarantining of some staff, while Turkish armed forces have imposed social distancing in mess rooms and dormitories, among other measures. On Sunday, Turkey said it was limiting troop movements in Syria as cases of the coronavirus jumped.

“We have had to cancel non-essential maritime missions and deployments, or modify their scope,” said French army command spokesman Colonel Frederic Barbry, adding that there had as yet been no impact on “operational capability”.

French naval vessels in the Straits of Hormuz are no longer stopping at regional ports apart from Abu Dhabi, and air operations have been affected, with exercises cancelled and delays in relieving aircraft in some theatres, Barbry said.