Zero COVID-19 cases among PLA Navy escort group

By Guo Yuandan Published: 2020/6/8 3:13:55


Out of the 2,000 officers and sailors from the three People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy escort groups deployed to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, zero infections were reported during the COVID-19 pandemic as the 34th escort group prepares to return, the South China Sea Fleet announced Sunday. 

Naval experts speaking under the condition of anonymity told the Global Times on Sunday that Chinese PLA policymakers canceled some port visits based on COVID-19 infection risks due to the pandemic.

The military escort groups also applied and obeyed anti-epidemic measures, the experts said, who accredited the efforts as the reason for the zero infection rate. 

The Global Times found that when the novel coronavirus rapidly spread globally, the PLA Navy's 33rd escort task group was en route to China. The group canceled its India visit due to the pandemic and followed prevention and control protocol during their Bangladesh and Thailand visits, a move analysts said reduced unnecessary contact and enhanced protection.

In March, upon their return to Qingdao, the ships had been out sea for almost 15 days. Naval officials conducted COVID-19 nucleic acid tests on all personnel and would not allow anyone to leave until every test revealed a negative result. 

In contrast, cluster infections occurred on the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt after it visited a port in Da Nang, Vietnam, in early March.

The PLA Navy's 34th escort task group set out from Sanya, South China's Hainan Province on December 23 and conducted escort missions from January 19 to May 19, when it escorted 50 Chinese and foreign vessels in 30 groups and neutralized 14 suspected pirate vessels that had approached merchant ships.

Due to the pandemic, the task group could not dock for replenishment or rest for almost 100 consecutive days and canceled all scheduled foreign visits.

According to public reports, the PLA Navy made an emergent dispatchment and sent the comprehensive supply ship Chaohu to the Gulf of Aden to secure the 34th escort task group's regular missions and delivered medical supplies.

The action was a surefire plan to ensure the supplies were prepared but not used rather than unprepared but needed, said one expert, noting the vessels could have encountered situations that would have forced them to stop at foreign ports, so they needed medical supplies to safeguard against accidents.

Although the pandemic spread rapidly worldwide, control and prevention efforts were severe, and the escort task groups still relayed to the Gulf of Aden.

The 35th escort group included the Taiyuan, a guided-missile destroyer, the Jingzhou, a missile frigate, and the Chaohu, a comprehensive supply ship, with a combined total of more than 690 naval personnel, and was dispatched on April 28. 

On May 30, the Chaohu conducted a replenishment mission to the Taiyuan and Jingzhou, providing fruits, vegetables, fuel, and freshwater.

The task group conducted maritime replenishment operations rather than conventional port methods.

The expert said the previous two groups accumulated experience in handling public health events, which could help the 35th escort task group maintain momentum with zero threat of infection. Due to their sufficient preparations, replenishment port calls would not be necessary. 

During the mission, the ships could have visited a PLA support base in Djibouti for replenishment or receive supplies from merchant ships from China in waters off Somalia should opportunities arise, the expert said.

Posted in: MILITARY

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