- The US military has so far only seen one service member infected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has infected over 81,000 people in at least 40 countries and killed nearly 2,800 people, the vast majority of whom are in China.
- But the military has been working to fight the virus for over a month, starting with turning over US military installations to the Department of Health and Human Services for quarantine.
- As the virus has spread, the US military is taking additional precautions, such as extensive screenings at 7th Fleet headquarters in Japan and the banning of various types of outings for US military personnel in South Korea.
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The US military is trying to fight off the coronavirus that has infected over 81,000 people in at least 40 countries and killed nearly 2,800 people, most of whom are in China, and it is taking increasingly drastic measures to protect US forces. In Korea, for example, the military has banned a number of off-base activities like shopping, seeing a movie, or dining out.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. In late January, when the outbreak was still largely contained to China, the Department of Defense issued guidance to US military personnel, many of whom are stationed abroad, on precautions they should take and how to recognize the key symptoms of the virus.
Around that time, Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of US forces in the Pacific, banned travel to China for all US military personnel.
In February, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper permitted the Department of Health and Human Services to use multiple stateside military installations as temporary housing options for quarantined Americans brought back from overseas, many of which have already started leaving quarantine.
The US has currently confirmed 60 cases of the coronavirus.
But, in South Korea, where the US has around 28,000 US troops, the number of infection cases is over 1,200.
The US military said in a statement Wednesday that a 23-year-old Army soldier serving in South Korea “tested positive” for the virus, a first for the military. Health officials are presently working to determine if others have been exposed to the virus.
US Forces Korea said that it “is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force.”
USFK has told military personnel to “avoid handshaking and unnecessary contact with others” and prohibited service members “from attending non-essential off-installation activities and social events including eat-in seated dining, shopping, bars, clubs, movie theaters or locations that have more than 20 people.”
US service members have been warned that they should expect longer wait times when accessing installations due to temperature checks and screenings.
US Indo-Pacific Command has decided to ban all non-essential travel to South Korea, and the US and South Korean militaries have made the decision to postpone joint military exercises. The South Korean military has experienced 21 cases of the coronavirus.
In Japan, where roughly 50,000 US troops are stationed, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has exceeded 800.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, has started screening everyone accessing the fleet’s warships and aircraft, Stars and Stripes reported Monday. US Army Japan told the outlet that they are “looking at our force health protection measures.”
And, in Europe, the US military is bracing for an increase in the number of infections.
“We’re anticipating an increase in the number of cases reported in Germany,” Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of US European Command, told lawmakers Tuesday, adding that it is possible that some of the facilities closures and lockdowns elsewhere could be implemented in country, Military.com reported Tuesday.
Germany has only around 18 cases, but German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday that the situation is expected to “get worse before it gets better.”
In Italy, where nearly 400 people have been infected, the US military has temporarily closed on-base schools and other facilities in the Vicenza military community amid growing concerns over the coronavirus, Stars and Stripes reported. Wolter said that these closures may be extended.