Politics

Canada's military ordered to begin 'pre-pandemic planning'

Canada’s top military commander issued a detailed set of "pre-pandemic planning” orders on Wednesday for units both at home and overseas.

Forces must preserve ability to function and support government, top soldier says

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance delivers remarks at the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence in Ottawa, on Wednesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada's top military commander issued a detailed set of "pre-pandemic planning" orders on Wednesday for units both at home and overseas.

The orders give base commanders the authority to, among other things, cancel large gatherings on bases in the event of a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

They also outline "additional precautions," ranging from personal hygiene to strict reviews of all non-essential travel and leave for soldiers, sailors and aircrew.

"The intent of this is to look at all of the things we need to do to preserve the force, should this become a pandemic," said Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, at a defence conference in Ottawa.

The military needs to preserve its ability to function and support the government if there is a full-blown health emergency, he added.

Federal officials, under a worst-case scenario, are preparing for an absentee rate among government workers of 25 per cent and Vance said the military is looking at a similar number should there be a pandemic. 

WATCH | Vance calls for 'common sense' precautions:

Gen. Jonathan Vance explains how he has directed his commanders to prepare for a possible pandemic. 0:45

"On a case-by-case basis, commanders will review where their troops travel on what may be non-essential travel. Can they do it another way?" said Vance.

One of the concerns is having troops trapped in countries that close their borders or impose sudden quarantines.

Vance said the military already has noticed a disruption in travel schedules as it tries to move personnel in and out of certain countries, particularly in the Middle East.

Iraq, where Canada has as many as 500 troops deployed, has reported two deaths from COVID-19. Overall, that country has reported 35 cases, with 14 in the capital of Baghdad.

Vance was speaking at an Ottawa defence conference, which was warned earlier in the day that war zones such as northern Syria and Iraq are extraordinarily vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the poor state of public health systems.

Jenny Cafarella, the research director the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, noted that refugees fleeing Syria for Turkey over the last few days are sleeping in open fields. She predicted the virus could become a major security concern.

It is something Vance said he is worried about, given troops throughout the region are involved in capacity building, which requires day-to-day contact with local security forces, some of whom may not be as healthy as Western soldiers.

"We're seeing it now in Iraq," he said. "Chances are, if someone is sick, they're not going to be operating, they're not going to be doing the job and therefore they wouldn't be subject to our close mentoring. Nonetheless, we've started to notice its spread in Iraq."

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.