March 8, 2020 / 2:06 PM / a month ago

U.S. Army restricts travel to Italy, South Korea over coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army said on Sunday it has decided to restrict travel to and from Italy and South Korea due to coronavirus outbreaks, and will also prohibit foreign troops from participating in U.S. exercises, exchanges and visits in the most affected nations.

The decision, described to Reuters by an Army spokeswoman, follows the confirmation on Saturday that two additional U.S. servicemembers have tested positive for the virus: a sailor in Italy and a Marine at Fort Belvoir, Virginia - an important military base in a Washington D.C. suburb.

One U.S. servicemember, a soldier in South Korea, had previously tested positive for the virus.

The restrictions on travel should not be seen as a blanket prohibition, the spokeswoman said, and were focused on soldiers who had orders to deploy to or depart from Italy and South Korea to another destination, including for an educational opportunity.

The prohibition on foreign troops’ participation in U.S. military activities appeared more comprehensive.

“Effective immediately, international students from countries with a CDC alert level category 2 and above for COVID-19 will not participate in U.S. scheduled exercises, exchanges and visits,” the spokeswoman said.

CDC alert level 3 countries are China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. The CDC has designated Japan as an alert level 2 country, with sustained and ongoing community transmission.

The latest travel guidance shows how the Army is trying to limit risk to its personnel, who are deployed around the world and often live in close proximity to each other.

U.S. military bases are often like small cities and their ability to remain operational is key to U.S. military readiness.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday U.S. officials were reviewing plans on how to keep the Pentagon operating in the event of a coronavirus outbreak in one of the world’s largest office buildings, where roughly 22,000 people work every day.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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