Norway cancels allied exercise over COVID-19 safety concerns
As Oslo and neighboring municipalities impose social lockdown with red level alert after an outbreak of the British variant of the coronavirus, also military activities in the north of the country is affected.
The Barents Observer could earlier in January report about a spike in COVID-19 cases among US Marines arriving for winter training to Setermoen camp in Troms. The American soldiers were, together with other allies and Norwegians, training cold climate snowy warfare. It was all supposed to culminate in the Joint Viking 2021 exercise in the end of February with about 10,000 soldiers.
“Norway is facing a very demanding situation. Infection control measures [in the outbreak areas] are the most intrusive since the start of the corona pandemic,” said Minister of Defense, Frank Bakke-Jensen. “We must avoid the spread of the mutated virus, and after a comprehensive assessment of the situation, we have decided to cancel the allied activities in Troms,” the minister said.
No new forces from other countries will travel to northern Norway. Forces that are already in place will make a controlled withdrawal, the defense ministry informs.
The means about 2,900 soldiers will have to pack up and go home. Of those are more than 1,000 from the United States, just under 1,000 from Great Britain, some 600 from the Netherlands and about 200 from Germany.
In total, 3,400 allied soldiers were supposed to come to Joint Viking before start on February 28.
About 45 of the U.S. and British soldiers tested positive for COVID-19 after arrival a month ago and where isolated at the camp in Setermoen. The virus did not spread to others.
Northern Norway have relatively few cases, but the government fears the mutated virus causing lockdown near Oslo could spread to other parts of the country. The same fear has triggered Norway’s Nordic neighbors, Sweden and Finland, to close their borders to Norway.
Last winter, the even larger exercise Cold Response was cancelled after 10 days, as the first wave of COVID-19 infections hit Norway. Then, the 15,000 soldiers from Norway and nine allied countries had to put down their weapons and pack up.
Due to the outbreak of the mutated virus, the Armed Forces have introduced restrictive measures on personell coming from red zones in South-Eastern Norway. This entails a halt in the drafting of new recruits from these municipalities for the time being, and commuter-travel to and from these zones is suspended for now. All scheduled leaves for Army personell are halted until further notice. To maintain national readiness, there will however, within current strict Covid-19 preventative measures, still be conducted national training and excercise-activity in the Troms region.