Top general: More closures at US bases in Europe possible as coronavirus spreads

Top general: More closures at US bases in Europe possible as coronavirus spreads
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The top U.S. general in Europe said Tuesday that closures at military bases in Italy could be extended and measures could be taken at bases in Germany as outbreaks of the coronavirus spread in Europe.

U.S. European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters’s comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee come as Italy is experiencing the largest outbreak of coronavirus outside of Asia at 238 confirmed cases.

In Vicenza, where the United States has 6,000 to 7,000 troops plus thousands of troops’ family members, the Army has closed on-base schools, child care centers, gyms and churches as a precautionary measure as the disease spreads across Italy.

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The closures are scheduled to end March 1, but Wolters said Tuesday there is a “50-50” chance they could be extended.

The Army has also restricted nonessential travel to areas of Italy where cases of coronavirus have clustered, including Vo' Euganeo and the Lombardy region. No coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the city of Vicenza.

Asked by Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal MORE (R-Ark.) whether U.S. troops in Italy and their families are “mostly just sitting at home right now trying to avoid the coronavirus,” Wolters said a “fair amount” are doing so.

Meanwhile, in Germany, there have been 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Wolters said military officials “anticipate the need may arise” for travel restrictions in Germany, “but that is still to be determined.”

“We are anticipating an increase in the number of cases reported in Germany, and we’re prepared to execute,” Wolters added when asked about potential closures at military bases there.

Germany is home to the largest U.S. military presence in Europe at more than 33,000 troops.

The novel coronavirus originated in China, and its spread throughout the globe has raised fears of a pandemic. On Tuesday, a top U.S. health official warned the spread of coronavirus in America appears to be inevitable and that the disruptions could be “severe.”