March 11 (UPI) — A large cold-weather military exercise that began in Norway this week and was led by the United States has ended because of concerns over the coronavirus, U.S. European Command said Tuesday.
Norwegian authorities ended the Cold Response 2020 drill just two days after it started. About two dozen U.S. soldiers participating in the drills were quarantined after exposure to an infected service member from Norway.
“The decision is a precautionary measure in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of all participants and the local population,” a statement from U.S. European Command said. “The health of our force continues to be a top priority and we are committed to maintaining mission readiness.”
Some 1,500 U.S. troops were participating in the drill, which is one of the largest in Europe.
“We are working closely with our Norwegian Allies to manage the safe and orderly transition of our personnel,” the command said. “We appreciate the hard work that Norway has put into making this exercise happen and we look forward to continued collaboration and opportunities to engage in the future.”
Norwegian defense chief Frank Bakke-Jensen canceled all meetings and travel for the near future, as he may also have been exposed to the coronavirus. The ministry said Bakke-Jensen will work from his home office in the interim.
The exercise was one of several that have been canceled or limited because of the coronavirus outbreak. The European Command called off a missile defense drill in Israel last week and Africa Command reduced the scope of its exercise in Morocco.