US Navy's 7th Fleet to screen all personnel boarding ships for coronavirus

EMPPhotography/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said Tuesday it will screen all personnel boarding its ships for coronavirus — formally called COVID-19 — as the virus spreads across Asia.

“We have developed plans to screen all personnel including but not limited to crew, visitors, civilians, contractors, and new check-ins gaining access to [7th Fleet] units and platforms,” said Lt. Joe Keiley, 7th Fleet spokesperson, in a statement. “These additional screening requirements will include newly gained personnel and those returning from leave.”

According to the Navy, there are no indications that any 7th Fleet personnel have been affected by COVID-19. However, the command is responsible for much of the waters around the Asian continent, including four countries where the virus has claimed the highest number of cases: China, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore.

Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department raised the travel advisory level for South Korea and Japan to level 2, citing the COVID-19 outbreak. The alerts say that “sustained community spread has been reported in South Korea,” meaning people in both countries “have been infected with the virus, but how or where they became infected is not known, and the spread is ongoing.”

Both countries host tens of thousands of American military personnel, including Navy sailors. Headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, 7th Fleet has as many as 50 to 70 ships within its command at any one time, according to its website.

“In response to the threat of this virus, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet issued guidance to the Fleet that ensures the risk of COVID-19 is mitigated to our forces,” Keiley said. “We will continue to mitigate the risk to force while continuing to support the mission in support of our operational strategy and in accordance with Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery guidance.”

On Monday, U.S. Forces Korea confirmed that a U.S. military dependent had been diagnosed with COVID-19, triggering the base to limit non-essential travel and characterize the overall risk from the virus to U.S. military personnel on the Korean Peninsula as “high.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper also told reporters on Monday that the U.S. may scale back military exercises with South Korean forces due to the spread of the virus.

U.S. military in Italy takes precautions

It’s not just the U.S. military community in Asia that is worried about COVID-19. U.S. military activities in Vincenza, Italy have ground to halt as the garrison there takes a number of safety precautions due to the spread of the virus throughout Italy.

Though there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Vinceza where U.S. Army Garrison Italy is located, all military schools have been closed through Friday while a number of other community activities have been cancelled or postponed.

The garrison has also restricted non-mission essential travel to the Veneto and Lombardy regions of northern Italy where the number of individuals diagnosed with the virus is growing to more than 280. Ten individuals have died in Italy from COVID-19.

“As a precaution, we recommend you to stay close to home,” the garrison posted on its Facebook page on Monday. “Practice frequent hand washing with warm water and soap.”

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