Troops and their families will be ordered to stop all travel and movement overseas as the Pentagon takes more bold steps to stop the continued spread of novel coronavirus cases in the military, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told the wire service that he has issued a stop-movement order that will require service members and their families across the globe to remain where they are for at least two months.
"The purpose is to make sure that we're not bringing the virus back home, infecting others -- that we're not spreading it around the military," Esper told Reuters.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases among uniformed personnel jumped to 227 as of Wednesday, up 53 from the day prior. At least a dozen of those service members have been hospitalized as a result of the virus, which is considered a global pandemic and national emergency in the U.S.
Defense Department officials did not immediately respond to questions about the new order, including what, if any, exceptions might be made for military families. Esper indicated to Reuters there would be some exceptions to the policy.
One exception, he said, would be for U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. The U.S. is currently planning a drawdown of forces there, and the defense secretary said that will continue.
The stop-movement order follows a 60-day ban issued March 11 on non-mission essential international travel to, from and through locations designated as “Level 3” countries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating widespread ongoing transmission of the virus. That list of countries now includes China, Iran, most of Europe, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Israel, among others.
Following that, a sweeping ban was announced earlier this month on travel inside the U.S. and its territories. That order, which was enacted days after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus, temporarily halted all official travel for troops, their family members and Defense Department civilians.
The domestic-travel order runs through at least May 11. It limits troops to taking leave only in their local areas and halted permanent change-of-station moves and other temporary duties not considered essential.
Esper also on Wednesday ordered all DoD bases and installations to raise their health-protection measures to fight the coronavirus. Health protection condition, or HPCON, levels are now set to Charlie, which is the second-highest level and considered substantial.
At HPCON Charlie, in-person meetings and gatherings should be limited or canceled and sheltering in place indoors is encouraged.
"Our curve is not flattening, and that's why we went to HPCON Charlie today," Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, told reporters.
Several units operating overseas have already been extended. The Marine Corps' Europe-based crisis response force, which includes more than 2,000 personnel, has had its return to the U.S. delayed by the coronavirus, Marine Corps Times reported. Marines who were operating in Norway have also been ordered to remain there, according to the paper.
This story is developing and will be updated.