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Special report


n 4 March 1918, the first known cases of Spanish flu broke out in Fort Riley, Kansas. Within three weeks in the cramped barracks conditions, 1,100 soldiers had come down with the virus – and from there it spread across the world. Just over a century later, defence forces are facing similar issues in combating the spread of Covid-19 in close quarters. The US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was a particularly striking case in point. During its mission in the west Pacific in March 2020, its crew numbered between 4,500–4,800 personnel. After a stopover in Da Nang, Vietnam, the first case of Covid-19 was declared on board on 22 March. By 25 March, nine crew members who had tested positive had been evacuated and naval operations were suspended. Six days later, after an on-board quarantine had been implemented, there were more than a hundred confirmed cases on the ship.


Under siege O


By 13 April, the US Navy had mourned the first – and fortunately only – death linked to this vessel. And when 5 May came around and every member of the crew had been tested at least once, there were a total of 1,156 confirmed coronavirus cases among the crew, at which point the Navy stopped releasing new figures for further confirmed cases.


The extent to which Covid-19 took hold of the vessel was a shock to naval forces around the world, and one was to be repeated on the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle just days later. There, 64% of the 1,800-strong crew ended up testing positive for Covid- 19. Again, naval operations were quickly suspended. While the First World War saw some early attempts at biological warfare, it wasn’t until the Cold War that toxic agents were weaponised on a large scale. Since then, all military environments have been protected against ‘CBRN’ threats – chemical, biological,


The military has faced significant challenges combatting the spread of Covid-19 in cramped conditions such as aircraft carriers and barracks, but soldiers’ unique ability to follow rules means new protocols may be easier to implement than in civilian settings. Elly Earls speaks to Dr Benjamin Queyriaux, medical director at the Health Intelligence Protection Surveillance Agency, and Dr Nelson Michael, the director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research, about the lessons the armed forces have learned over the past year to prevent transmission within military facilities.


Defence & Security Systems International / www.defence-and-security.com Defence & Security Systems International / www.defence-and-security.com


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ITS STUDIO; Artulina/Shutterstock.comITS STUDIO; Artulina/Shutterstock.com


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