Pentagon halts service member travel to countries most affected by coronavirus for 60 days

Pentagon halts service member travel to countries most affected by coronavirus for 60 days
© Greg Nash

The Defense Department (DOD) will implement a 60-day travel ban for service members, DOD civilians and their families to and from countries whose populations have been the most stricken by coronavirus, the Pentagon announced Wednesday night.

The restrictions, which go into effect Friday, ban all travel to, throughout and from locations designated as Level 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.

In addition, DOD civilians and service members’ families are banned from traveling to Level 2 countries, which currently include Japan, for 60 days.

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“The Department of Defense's top priority remains the protection and welfare of our people,” Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Black Lives Matter, protesters sue Trump admin over aggressive crowd clearing Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal MORE said in a statement. “While directing this prudent action, I continue to delegate all necessary authority to commanders to make further decisions based on their assessments to protect their people and ensure mission readiness."

"While we deal with this fluid and evolving situation, I remain confident in our ability to protect our service members, civilians and families," he added.

The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has infected more than 1,000 Americans and killed more than 30 thus far. 

The Pentagon’s decision — which comes as President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE announced that the United States would restrict travel from Europe for the next 30 days — will impact thousands of service members and their families based at U.S. military installations in South Korea, Japan and Italy.

The strict ban in Level 3 countries encompasses “all forms of travel,” including reassignments known as permanent changes of station, temporary duty and government-funded leave.

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“Service secretaries and commanders may issue waivers to this policy as they determine necessary to ensure mission readiness and address specific cases,” the Pentagon said in a statement.  

For the next 60 days, DOD will also implement “enhanced health care protocols” for anyone traveling to Level 2 or Level 3 nations. 

DOD earlier on Wednesday also announced that it would reduce the number of troops expected to participate in a multinational exercise in Europe, as well as pull U.S. forces from a multinational Arctic exercise in Norway. Both drills had been curtailed due to concerns over coronavirus.