- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2020

All U.S. military travel to and from Europe will be suspended for two months because of concern from the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The Pentagon said Thursday that while exceptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis, all official and non-official travel will be halted by a 60-day freeze on American military personnel, civilian employees of the Defense Department and family members.

The temporary restrictions are set to begin Friday, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper told reporters at the Pentagon.

“For those in uniform, it also covers personal leave,” Mr. Esper said Thursday during a briefing, indicating that the freeze means Europe-based American personnel will not be able to return to the United States for the coming 60 days, unless they are granted a special exception.

The freeze will be in place for travel to and from countries deemed as having “Level III” coronavirus risk by U.S. health authorities.

As determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those nations currently include Germany, Italy, Belgium and Greece and others.

Mr. Esper said the U.S. military also is temporarily restricting the travel of family members to Japan, which has been designated by CDC as a Level II country.

The Pentagon is also postponing the hiring of nonessential civilian employees in Level II and Level III areas.

There may be exceptions.

Defense officials explained that combatant commanders and service secretaries will be authorized to grant exceptions to the travel freeze on a case-by-case basis.

“The [Defense] Department remains committed to doing our part in the administration’s comprehensive fight against the coronavirus,” Mr. Esper said.

The Pentagon also is considering temporarily restricting military transfers within the continental United States, officials said.

With regard to the restrictions on movement to and from Europe, meanwhile, Mr. Esper said he is confident the Defense Department will continue to be able to maintain American security.

“We have a young, healthy, fit, robust demographic in the United States military,” the defense secretary said. “There is a good chance [the coronavirus] is seasonal and it will burn off in the next couple of months.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, meanwhile, said that some military exercises in Europe will continue even while the travel restrictions are in place.

“I think we’re fine, national security-wise. If I thought otherwise, I’d tell [Mr. Esper] and the president in a nanosecond,” Gen. Milley said. “We’re in good shape.”

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