More than 15,000 soldiers from nine countries will put down their weapons and start preparing to go home from their current locations in northern Norway.
“The virus is out of control in the society, and that’s a new situation. Therefore we have decided to start a controlled canceling of the exercise,” says Lt. Gen. Rune Jakobsen, Commander at the Norwegian Joint Headquarter.
The decision was taken Wednesday after a joint agreement with Norwegian civilian health authorities.
Lt. Gen. Jakobsen explains that military personel should not contribute to the spread of the virus in the society. Also, he says, the Armed Forces can now support the society in the time ahead.
Doctors that are currently in the army can go back to their hospitals and other health institutions where they are needed as the outbreak of the coronavirus currently turns worse from day to day.
Cold Response is the biggest NATO allied exercise in Norway this year. It started on March 2nd and the field part of the drill was supposed to continue until March 18th.
Military men and women backed by heavy hardware was until Wednesday by noon fighting their way across deep snow and harsh climate conditions in the northernmost part of Norway. The main activities of the exercise took place inside the Arctic Circle, from Narvik in the south to Porsangermoen in the north.
For Norway, cold weather fighting is considered top expertise and the country has made Arctic operations its special contribution to NATO.
According to the Norwegian military, the main purpose of the Cold Response 2020 is to conduct «multinational joint exercises with a high-intensity combat scenario in demanding winter conditions.»
Of big importance is also joint training with large amphibious capacities, the country’s Armed Forces inform.
Last Sunday, Finland’s Armed Forces decided not to send about 400 soldiers from the Army’s readiness unit to Cold Response, arguing the threat posed by the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Barents Observer reported.
Then, the virus had already started to trouble Cold Response. Skjold military camp in Troms region, central for the exercise, had all 850 soldiers under quarantine since last Thursday. It later turned out that none of the soldiers in the camp had tested positive.
According to a press release from the Norwegian Armed Forces, the cancellation of the exercise will take some time. Also, the statement underlines, “our daily operations continues”, making clear that Norway’s defense capailities are as normal.
According to the daily update from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the number of infected people with coronavirus was 277 on March 10th, of which only five are in the country’s northernmost region Troms and Finnmark.
Minister stays home
On Tuesday, Norway’s Defense Ministry said that their minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen, has cancelled all meetings and travel for the nearest future because he may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The measure was taken preventive to avoid any possible further transmission of the virus.
Minister Bakke-Jensen will work from his home office until the answer from a virus-test is ready.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Arctic cruise operators brace for coronavirus uncertainty, CBC News
Finland: Finland’s first coronavirus case confirmed in Lapland, Yle News
Iceland: Iceland talks Arctic, Trump’s ditching of climate accord, with U.S. Secretary of State, Eye on the Arctic
Norway: 16,000 NATO troops kickstart Arctic war game in northern Norway, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Coronavirus: Russia hints it might close its border with Norway, Finland, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Concern over coronavirus outbreak impacts tourism in northern Europe and Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: U.S. experts call for ‘vigilance’ on Russian military buildup in Arctic, Alaska Public Media