Canadian military bans international travel in response to COVID-19

soldiers depart

The Canadian military will ban all foreign travel and order non-essential personnel to stay home as part of a sweeping response to the global outbreak of COVID-19.

A general order will be issued later today after a preliminary warning order was issued to units across the country last night, said a spokesperson for the country’s top military commander.  A copy of the warning order was obtained by CBC News. 

The ban will mean that the few thousand troops serving on deployments, exercises and exchange positions will not be allowed to leave the country in which they are operating.

Routine operations and patrols within Canada will continue, as per normal.

“Ships will still sail and planes will still fly,” said Lt.-Col. Dave Devenney. “Our job is to stay healthy, preserve the force and be prepared to fight.”

The order follows on a series of measures the military has taken in response to the unfolding pandemic crisis. Travel to China was banned shortly after the novel coronavirus became a major issue in Asia.

A week ago, the chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, said the military had begun “pre-pandemic planning” by issuing orders that gave base commanders the authority to cancel large public gatherings, restrict all non-essential travel and enforce higher standards of personal hygiene.

At the time, Vance said federal officials, under a worst-case scenario, are prepared for an absentee rate among government workers of 25 per cent and that the military is looking at a similar number.

Although, he added, the best defence is not get sick at all. 

The biggest issue the Defence Department has faced thus far has been the civilian travel restrictions, which have hampered the movement of personnel. It has also prevented the full resumption of the military training mission in Iraq, a senior commander told a parliamentary committee this week.

There is concern for the forces operating in war zones like Iraq, where the health-care system lay in ruins. As of Thursday, Iraq reported 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and eight fatalities.

Approximately one-quarter of the country’s cases are known to be in the northern Kurdistan region, where Canadian special forces troops have been conducting an advise-and-assist mission to help root out the remaining extremist holdouts after the fall of the Islamic State.

The country’s second-largest city, Mosul, was largely destroyed by the fighting.

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