Norway’s armed forces cancelled the Cold Response military exercise on Wednesday that was meant to gather 15,000 NATO and allied soldiers because of concerns over the new coronavirus.
“The coronavirus is out of control,” the head of the army’s operations center, Rune Jakobsen, told reporters on March 11.
“We would rather preserve our army’s combat capabilities so we can support society in the turbulent period to come.”
As of March 10, there were 192 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Norway, according to World Health Organization data.
The exercise had initially been expected to gather troops from a dozen NATO or partner countries, including the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Sweden, from March 12-18.
Organized by Norway in the far north, it was aimed at testing multinational capabilities in a high-intensity combat scenario in demanding winter conditions.
The Norwegian army wanted to “avoid being a burden on the civilian healthcare system,” which had been expected to provide some personnel for the exercise, Jakobsen said.
Last week, the Norwegian army closed a military base in northern Norway after a soldier tested positive for the new coronavirus.
That is the only case detected in the Norwegian armed forces to date, but 240 soldiers are still in quarantine as a result, Jakobsen said.
On Saturday, Finland announced it would not be sending the 400 troops initially due to take part, because of the epidemic.
Last week NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would press ahead with large-scale military exercises, including Defender Europe 20, which will see 20,000 troops deployed from the United States to Europe.
Since then, a number of non-NATO exercises have been cancelled in South Korea and Israel, and U.S.-led multinational exercises in Africa have been scaled back over the coronavirus concerns.
With reporting from AFP