Canada’s chief of defence says the military has shifted into what it calls a mode of “pre-pandemic planning” in order to prepare for a novel coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands worldwide.
A military-wide order Wednesday for all Canadian Armed Forces members says that it is now moving into pandemic alert and preparedness to shield against the potential spread of COVID-19 across Canada and its ranks.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, CAF General and Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance said that the military is planning for an absentee rate of about 25 per cent.
Vance said that the CAF expects the directive to both aid Canadian civilians as well as its own operational effectiveness, should a COVID-19 outbreak spill across Canada.
“One is to preserve the force and our ability to function, should there be a pandemic, and the other is to support Canadians,” said Vance.
Several significant changes to CAF operations include what Vance calls is the order to have commanders use “common sense in command judgement.”
CAF commanders will now assess if travel on a case by case basis can be deemed non-essential. Troops will only be able to travel to a country experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak if it is for an operationally essential purpose, such as when military medical crews were sent to China to bring Canadians back home.
Commanders must now assess vacation requests on a case by case basis as well, and military members may see their vacations either cancelled or denied. In those cases, the military will reimburse a member’s cancelled vacation, the order said.
Other changes to CAF operations include an increase of protection to supply chains and potential cordons that may limit movement. Commanders have been warned to reconsider large gatherings amongst its forces.
Since the outbreak began in December 2019, over 94,000 cases of the infection and a further 3,200 deaths have been confirmed worldwide. The large majority of them have been in China, where the virus is believed to have originated the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.
In Canada, a total 30 cases of the virus have been confirmed.
While the spread of the virus has begun to slow down in China, its eventual spread has since resulted in outbreaks across both Asia and the West.
Countries like South Korea, Iran and Italy have each registered thousands of cases. The U.S., which itself has confirmed over a 100 cases of the virus, also confirmed 11 deaths linked to the virus.
Canadian health officials previously said and still continue to reassure Canadians that overall risk to exposure to the virus remains low.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that he has created a new cabinet committee to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A news release Wednesday issued Wednesday by the Prime Minister’s Office said that the committee would “complement the work done by the Incident Response Group,” as well as regularly meeting to “ensure whole-of-government leadership, coordination and preparedness for a response to the health and economic impacts of the virus.”
Vance said that the CAF’s measures were made to keep in line with what other government departments were doing, and that while most of the cases in Canada have been reasonably mild, they are ultimately waiting on where the disease goes over time.
“It’s not going to go away, viruses don’t leave. But we are able to manage them, and humans are able to deal with them, like we do with the flu every year,” said Vance.
“The challenge right now for us is around the unknown.”