Covid risk grounds Thai soldiers from overseas exercises

Covid risk grounds Thai soldiers from overseas exercises

Disease control personnel disinfect soldiers who returned from an exercise in Hawaii, at Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan province on July 22. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Disease control personnel disinfect soldiers who returned from an exercise in Hawaii, at Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan province on July 22. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The army has suspended all plans to send soldiers to military exercises overseas after nine out of 151 soldiers returning from a drill in Hawaii last week tested positive for Covid-19.

Gen Nathaphon Sisawat, an army adviser in his capacity as director of the army’s  Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said the army has learned from the incident. Despite the effort made to prevent soldiers from contracting the virus during the exercise, a significant number were still infected.

He was referring to the Lightning Forge 2020 drill in Hawaii.

Aside from the nine Covid-19 infected soldiers, the rest are now being quarantined in a state quarantine facility to ensure they didn’t contract an asymptomatic form of the virus and go unnoticed, he said.

“We have to accept that it is unsafe and these soldiers were infected with the virus [from the exercise]," he said. "We take this as a lesson for learning how to improve the safety of overseas training during the pandemic."

The infected soldiers will continue to be isolated until they are free of the virus, while those in quarantine will be tested repeatedly until they complete 14 days of compulsory quarantine, he said.

None of the infected soldiers showed severe symptoms.

Gen Nathaphon admitted the group will have to miss follow-up tests and evaluations of the Hawaii exercise, which are scheduled to be held in September and October at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in  Louisiana.

Asked if the overseas travel suspension policy will affect the army’s planned rotation of a company of engineering soldiers on a special mission in South Sudan, he said the army was monitoring the coronavirus situation where the soldiers now work and has not reached a final decision.

No Thai soldiers in South Sudan have contracted the virus, he said.

The rotation is planned to begin between September and October.

Maximum security measures are maintained in areas where Thai soldiers work with United Nations organisations, he said.


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