Pentagon says coronavirus cases in military have quadrupled since last week

Clay Curtis
March 26, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has issued a stop movement order to the US military halting travel and movement overseas for up to 60 days in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus through the ranks, the Pentagon chief told Reuters on Wednesday.

Esper's overseas stop-movement order will likely impact some 90,000 service members slated to deploy or return to their home stations during the next 60 days, Pentagon officials said.

The order is not expected to impact the continued drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan, following an agreement struck in Doha last month with the Taliban in which the USA agreed to initially reduce its presence to 8,600 soldiers over 135 days.

The U.S. military said earlier on Wednesday it was also elevating its health protection condition, or HPCON, at bases around the world to Charlie, its second highest level, which suggests sustained community transmission.

"We are not maxing our capacity in our labs around the world", Joint Staff Surgeon Brig.

"Our curve is not flattening", Friedrichs said during a Pentagon news briefing.

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The US military said on Tuesday that three sailors aboard an aircraft carrier deployed in the Pacific Ocean tested positive for the coronavirus.

The U.S. military reports a 65 percent spike in coronavirus cases; Jennifer Griffin has the details. One person who was a contractor has died.

CNN further said the decision means troops in places like Iraq or Afghanistan could see their deployments extended by two months.

Esper's order also allows for other exceptions, which could be granted by commanders for issues such as obtaining medical treatment, mission-essential travel or humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis, the memo states.

But Esper and U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have stressed military leaders will seek to mitigate that risk and insist the U.S. armed forces will still be able to carry out its missions. Other authorized exceptions include scheduled deployments or redeployments of Navy vessels, provided they have met the restriction of movement requirements now in place. He pointed out the decision was made to prevent the military from "bringing the virus back" to the USA and infecting healthy citizens. Gen. Dr. Paul Friedrichs, a top Pentagon doctor, said that the potential easing of restrictions by a predetermined date could potentially "make this worse". But it could take weeks to find out for certain.

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