MWR closes, food is takeout only as US bases in Afghanistan respond to pandemic
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KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. bases in Afghanistan have closed some facilities and limited gatherings under a public health emergency declared in late March to control the spread of the coronavirus, military officials said Friday.
The emergency order from Gen. Scott Miller also allows commanders to impose quarantine or isolation, close buildings and restrict movement, NATO Resolute Support said in a statement. The order issued March 28 includes service members and others under U.S. and NATO authority.
“Under the (public health emergency), a civilian or contractor who refuses to comply with the rules or follow instructions from medical professionals could be sent home,” NATO Resolute Support spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a statement.
Measures by NATO Resolute Support to limit the spread of the virus resemble those announced in recent weeks at military bases worldwide.
U.S. and NATO dining facilities in Afghanistan are takeout only, with shortened hours for stores and restaurants run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities, where troops could play video games or call their families, have been closed.
All indoor gyms at U.S. bases are closed, although personnel are encouraged to exercise at outdoor gyms, the Resolute Support statement said.
The U.S.-led mission to advise Afghanistan security forces is continuing using remote means, Resolute Support said.
Troops must maintain six feet of distance from each other and wear a face mask if that distance is not possible, in line with Pentagon guidelines. No more than 10 people are to gather in a room at one time, and meetings are to take place remotely when possible, a Resolute Support statement said.
The public health emergency declaration will continue at least through late April, military officials said.
“Enforcing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across the force is not only a command focus but an individual responsibility,” Leggett said in the statement.
U.S. and NATO medical personnel have formed a COVID-19 prevention task force and some deployed commanders are holding virtual meetings to answer questions from troops, Leggett said.
U.S. officials declined Friday to discuss how many troops in Afghanistan have since tested positive for coronavirus, citing a Pentagon directive to stop announcing local case figures.
Four NATO service members had tested positive for coronavirus after arriving in Afghanistan, military officials said in late March.
Afghanistan had 444 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15 deaths, the World Health Organization website said Friday.
Thousands of Afghans have recently returned to the country from Iran, which has been among the nations hardest hit by coronavirus, with 64,586 cases and 3,993 deaths, the WHO said.