The U.S. military is ordering service members, civilian Department of Defense workers, and families from traveling to, from, or through countries most affected by the new coronavirus.
The travel restrictions are in place from March 13 for two months.
“The Department of Defense’s top priority remains the protection and welfare of our people,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper 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.”
The countries are those identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as Level 3 locations and may change, Esper said. As of now, those countries are China, Iran, and South Korea. Most of Europe is also labeled Level 3, or “avoid nonessential travel.”
The new virus first started in Wuhan, China, last year and has spread to over 100 countries around the world, infecting more than 120,000 people and killing thousands. The majority of those infected are in China.
Official travel to Level 2 locations for families of service members and civilian personnel is also denied for the next 60 days, Esper said.
All service members who have traveled from, to, or through Level 2 or 3 countries will be screened and isolated at home for two weeks.
Symptoms of the new virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms appear in one to 14 days after infection. People who are sick should stay home and contact health authorities or their healthcare provider.
Esper told reporters earlier this month that the U.S. military could continue operations even if there’s an outbreak in Washington.
“Our national military command center has the capability to go for weeks at a time if they have to be locked down inside the building if we have some type of outbreak,” Esper said during a press conference.
The Pentagon was finalizing plans to prevent the spread of the virus among service members and at military bases, he said, as well as making arrangements for what to do if an outbreak occurs.
Two soldiers have tested positive, one in South Korea and one in Europe, officials said earlier this week. A civil servant, four family members, and one contractor have also contracted the illness.