Defense Secretary Esper postpones Asia trip to direct the US military's response to coronavirus

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper will not travel to India and other countries in the region next week amid the growing coronavirus outbreak.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the secretary of defense has decided to postpone his travel to India, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan until a later date to remain in the US to help manage the DoD response to coronavirus,” Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said on Tuesday.

U.S. military commanders are also looking to postpone their trips as a precaution, a senior defense official told reporters on Tuesday.

So far, there are no indications that any of the service members or Defense Department civilians who work in the Pentagon have the coronavirus, the official said during a background briefing at the Pentagon.

The number of U.S. service members and dependents who have become infected with coronavirus is small but growing. Most recently, preliminary tests indicated that a service member and spouse assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, had COVID-19, which is caused by coronavirus, according to the base’s Facebook page.

Both the service member and spouse are quarantined in their off-base home, the message said. The story was first reported by Caitlin Kenney of Stars and Stripes.

Meanwhile, 23 soldiers were placed in 14-day isolation while taking part in Exercise Cold Response 20 in Norway because a Norwegian service member tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5, said Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa.

The soldiers are with the 500th Engineer Support Company, 15th Engineer Battalion, based in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Rankine-Galloway said in a statement. Wyatt Olson of Stars and Stripes first reported that they had been put in isolation.

“While our personnel do not show any signs or symptoms of the virus, they are in isolation as a precautionary measure,” he said.

Elsewhere, a service member in the U.S. Central Command theater who was placed in isolation after showing symptoms of COVID-19 turned out not to have the disease, said CENTCOM spokesman Navy Cmdr. Zachary Harrell.

“The immediate risk to our force remains low across the force,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the top medical advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday. “I want to be very clear about that: We’ve had a handful of cases around the world. No one is seriously ill at this point. Everyone who has been diagnosed is being appropriately treated, getting the care that they need.”