Esper postpones trip to help with coronavirus response

By Ellen Mitchell

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is postponing a trip abroad “out of an abundance of caution” to lead the Pentagon’s response to coronavirus, the department said Tuesday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Secretary of Defense @EsperDOD has decided to postpone his travel to India, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan until a later date to remain in the U.S. to help manage the @DeptofDefense response to Coronavirus,” Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah tweeted.

More positive tests and exposure:

Several members of the military have tested positive or may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

On Monday, the Army announced that its top general in Europe, Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, and several staffers may have been exposed to the virus at a recent conference. In a statement, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Cavoli and the others are self-monitoring and working remotely.

The Pentagon also said Saturday that a Marine assigned to Fort Belvoir, Va., who had just returned from overseas travel tested positive for the virus.

Deterrent efforts: Meanwhile, the Pentagon is also providing four bases to quarantine passengers coming off the Grand Princess cruise, which has seen 21 passengers test positive for the virus. The bases are Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in California, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia.

On Monday, Pentagon officials said the department is taking steps to control the spread of the virus in the building, including “social distancing” and wiping down workspaces.

For example, Esper’s regular Monday meeting with senior staff was split into three rooms with video conferencing between the rooms, instead of the normal face-to-face gathering in one room, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Monday.

And DOD curtailing Africa exercise: The Pentagon is also scaling back a multinational military exercise in Africa amid concerns over the coronavirus.

Military leaders from the United States, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal “will modify the size and scope of African Lion to minimize exposure of U.S. and partner nation service members to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” U.S. Africa Command said in a Tuesday statement.

African Lion, set to start March 23 and involving nearly 7,000 tons of military equipment and 9,000 troops — including more than 4,000 U.S. service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps — is Africom’s largest exercise on the continent.

The exercise will now include only portions that do not require troops to lodge together in close quarters, as well as an academic portion which has already begun.

“The safety and protection of all of our forces — U.S. and partner nation — is a priority,” Africom head Gen. Stephen Townsend said in the statement.

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