The spread of the coronavirus in Europe is affecting operations and services on some U.S. military bases in Italy, and precautions could soon extend to the thousands of personnel stationed in Germany, the general in charge of the military’s activity on that continent told senators on Tuesday.
Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, who leads U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a “fair amount” of the military’s 35,000 soldiers in Italy are staying home to avoid the virus. The disease was first detected in China, and the World Health Organization in January said the outbreak is a “public health emergency of international concern.”
There are almost 300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy, where seven people have died from the illness. The outbreak in Italy, so far, has been most prevalent in the Lombardy region, in the country's northwest. But there are also confirmed cases in Veneto, the northeastern region that is home to the U.S. Army Garrison Italy in the town of Vicenza and close to Aviano Air Force base.
Wolters told the panel that U.S. servicemembers and their families are banned from traveling to affected regions. Additionally, Wolters confirmed that schools, fitness centers, chapels and other meeting places on the Vicenza installation are closed until Wednesda. There is a 50 percent chance that those areas would remain closed beyond the middle of the week, he said.
Responding to questions from Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Wolters estimated that there are up to 7,000 troops stationed in Vicenza, with as many as 80 percent of those troops having spouses and children. The base acts as the headquarters for the U.S. Army’s Africa operations and also hosts members of the Army’s 173rd Airborne unit.
Wolters’ European Command is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, a country with 16 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Wolters confirmed that there have not yet been base closures in Germany like the one in Vicenza, but he predicted that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany will rise.