US military victim or spreader of virus?

By Liu Xuanzun Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/26 20:28:40

Experts demand sources of infections amid rising casualties, speculation

Photo: AFP

Even as casualties in the US military caused by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) keep on rising, Chinese military experts noted on Sunday that the US is still reluctant to investigate and disclose when and how these confirmed cases arose. 

The Pentagon is obligated to publicly answer these questions, the experts said, as it was easy for US soldiers and officers to infect others in their operations across the world, and some even asserted that the US military might have spread the disease in the first place.

Some 3,919 military service members have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus and two have died as of Friday, according to data publicly released by the US Department of Defense. Cases reportedly include the Aleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Kidd, aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Ronald Reagan, USS Carl Vinson and USS Nimitz and possibly ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee,

When COVID-19 first broke out on the USS Theodore Roosevelt on March 24, military analysts speculated the reason behind it was the carrier had personnel exchanges during its visit to Da Nang, Vietnam in early March. 

However, at that time there were a total of only 16 COVID-19 cases in Vietnam, all in Hanoi, far from Da Nang, US military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported on April 15.

Since no epidemiological investigation has been revealed to public, the question arose: Did Vietnamese virus carriers infect the US sailors or were novel coronavirus carriers already aboard the aircraft carrier in the first place, and if so, how? 

Guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill visited Vietnam with the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to Stars and Stripes, but was seemingly not affected by the virus as it went on its operation in the South China Sea even in mid-April, according to the US Pacific Fleet's Twitter account. 

About two weeks ago, US media reported that COVID-19 might have hit the USS Tennessee ballistic missile submarine. But since then some reports have vanished and no further news could be found via Google.

"When did patient zero begin in US?" Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian posted on his Twitter account in March. "How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan."

Zhao was referring to the Military World Games held in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province in October 2019, in which US military athletes participated. Wuhan later on was struck by COVID-19.

"Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!" Zhao posted.

At the initial stages of the virus, the US military was mobilizing troops across the globe, Beijing-based military expert Wei Dongxu told the Global Times on Sunday. That would "very likely" make infected US soldiers spread the virus across the world, Wei believed.

"Is the US military a victim or a spreader of the virus?" Wei said. "This needs detailed investigations, and the Pentagon should shoulder the responsibility to publish related information… including core data like when the disease first started in the US military," Wei said.

Work has been suspended at US military research lab, Fort Detrick, and a petition on the White House website listed coincidental events between the closure and the outbreak of COVID-19, urging the US government clarify whether the lab was related to the deadly virus. 

The US said the closure of the lab was no threat to public health and cited "national security reasons" as the rationale for not releasing information about the closure, the New York Times reported on April 5.

A Chinese military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times on Sunday that the US "lack of transparency" fueled speculation and the US should investigate and reveal the sources of its COVID-19 cases in a detailed, scientific and convincing manner to give the world a proper explanation.

The US military was afraid of knowing the truth, Wei asserted, because officials in the Pentagon are concerned about their own positions. 

If it turned out that their decisions had accelerated the spread of the virus across the globe and they are held responsible, they may face disciplinary action or have to leave their positions, Wei said.

The US military was also busy containing the outbreak and might not have the extra capability to conduct the investigations for the time being, Wei noted.

The US has been sending warships and flying reconnaissance aircraft in the South China Sea and East China Sea and crossing the Taiwan Straits more frequently than before the pandemic, according to Chinese mainland military experts.

Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the People's Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the Global Times previously that the serious COVID-19 outbreak in the US military partially resulted from its Cold War mentality.

The US still attempted to maintain a military presence in regions like the South China Sea, but this was unnecessary trouble for them in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as no one will wage war on the US, according to Zhang.

Insisting on conducting regular missions regardless of COVID-19 will do more harm to the US military, including more internal contradictions, reduced combat capabilities and damage to its global image, Chinese analysts said.

Brett Crozier, former captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, was fired for sounding the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard his ship, labeled "poor judgment" by his then-superior.

US Navy officials are already asking the Pentagon to reinstate Crozier, US media Politico reported on Friday.

Posted in: MILITARY

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