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Soldiers in parts of Germany, Georgia and Ukraine face new travel restrictions as coronavirus surges

Cpt. Anna Schultz, left, and Sgt. Toni Weaver, both with the Vilseck Veterinary Treatment Facility, give instructions during an exercise in Vilseck, Germany, Oct. 20, 2020. The 7th Army Training Command announced new coronavirus travel restrictions for soldiers in the Bavaria footprint, including Vilseck, as the virus resurges across Europe.

GERTRUD ZACH/U.S. ARMY

By IMMANUEL JOHNSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 23, 2020

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GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Soldiers assigned to the 7th Army Training Command faced new restrictions Friday as the coronavirus surged across Germany and Europe.

“It’s safe to say we’re in the second wave” of the pandemic, 7th ATC commander Brig. Gen. Christopher Norrie said in a video posted on Facebook.

“This second wave is a direct threat to the upcoming holiday season, to preserving our current services on our installations, to keeping our kids in school and maintaining our readiness,” he said. “Your personal actions can affect your entire community… This must be a team effort. We need everybody on board.”

Under the new restrictions, announced Thursday on the command’s website and Facebook page, most travel from duty stations in the 7th ATC’s footprint, which covers mainly the southern German state of Bavaria, has been limited to trips within Germany that do not require an overnight stay, command spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Weisman said.

Travel is generally prohibited to areas that are considered at high-risk for the coronavirus by Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, Weisman said.

“Anywhere designated as a risk area by RKI, soldiers can’t go to unless they submit a leave pass to their commander or supervisor, and leadership considers travel to that area an acceptable risk,” he said.

Soldiers can only use their personal vehicles for travel, say the new restrictions, which are an annex to a general order issued in September. For soldiers in Bavaria, travel on German trains or buses has been banned until further notice, but shuttles on and between bases, as well as school buses, are still authorized.

Soldiers in Ukraine and the Republic of Georgia who fall under the 7th ATC are also limited to local travel using personal vehicles. Both nations are on RKI’s list of countries at high risk for the coronavirus.

Rules on face masks and social distancing that were announced in the early weeks of the pandemic remain in place, as do limitations on social gatherings and bans on going to bars, hookah cafes and other public venues.

The command has posted a map on its website, https://www.7atc.army.mil/COVID-19/, that uses a red, yellow and green system to indicate the risk levels in Bavaria and some nearby German cities, such as Frankfurt and Stuttgart, which is home to U.S. European Command and Africa Command. Both cities are red — the highest level of risk — on that map and RKI’s.

RKI lists the district that includes Grafenwoehr as dark red, with more than 119 cases of the virus per 100,000 residents over the past seven days. Dark red is a level above what used to be the highest alert level, red, which was triggered when the number of new cases exceeded 50 per 100,000 people in one week.

The city and district of Kaiserslautern saw much lower 7-day infection rates, at around 31 per 100,000 and 18 per 100,000 respectively, according to data posted Friday on RKI’s website. But with cases rising in the area, which is home to Ramstein Air Base and several Army bases, military officials have urged the tens of thousands of American service members and their families who live there to “reduce visits to crowded establishments in the city such as bars and restaurants” and avoid large public gatherings to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Grafenwoehr and Vilseck are the only 7th ATC installations in Bavaria that are in red areas on the command’s map. The command advises against unnecessary travel to both bases.

Travel to Hohenfels, which is in a yellow area on the 7th ATC’s map, is discouraged, while Ansbach and Garmisch are in green areas and safe to travel to, the map shows.

All travel to red areas on the 7th ATC map requires approval from leadership, but “you can go to a yellow or green area without a pass,” Weisman said.

“There are different sets of information out there and it can be confusing,” he said. “With the 7ATC COVID dashboard, we are trying to ensure that our community, soldiers, family members and civilians can easily find out what applies to them.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report.

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