US sailors joining East Sea (South China Sea) exercise asked to wear face masks

Requiring all sailors to wear face masks is among extraordinary measures against the coronavirus taken by two US admirals in charge of a rare exercise in the East Sea (South China Sea).


Thanks to such measures, their aircraft carrier groups have stayed in high state of readiness in one of the most tense maritime environments in the world.

The Navy's response to the pandemic comes after one of its Pacific-based carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was crippled for weeks earlier this year by an outbreak that infected hundreds of its crew, CNN reported.

COVID-19 remains a real threat and requires constant vigilance, Rear Adm. George Wikoff, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, said.

The Navy has also spaced out mealtimes, instituted social distancing and brought aboard specialists, including microbiologists and extra health personnel, said Wikoff and Adm. James Kirk, commander of Carrier Strike Group 11, led by the USS Nimitz.

"Those measures have all been effective, and we are sailing COVID-free right now," Wikoff said.

More than 60,000 new COVID-19 infections were reported across the US on July 8, the greatest single-day tally of cases by any country since the virus emerged late last year in China. And US deaths rose by more than 900 for the second straight day, the highest level seen since early June.

More than 47,000 people have died of COVID-19 in New Jersey and New York, accounting for more than a third of the 132,000-plus Americans killed by the virus, according to a Reuters tally.

New Jersey adopted a stringent coronavirus face-mask order on July 8, and New York City unveiled a plan to allow public school students back into classrooms for just two or three days a week, as newly confirmed US COVID-19 cases soared to a daily global record.

Officials in New Jersey and New York, the hardest-hit states at the outset of the U.S. outbreak, are trying to preserve progress in curtailing spread of the virus in the face of a resurgence elsewhere across the country, especially the South and West.

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Hundreds of crew members from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which was docked in Guam in April, tested positive for the coronavirus. Tony Azios/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 cases confirmed within US Navy in the past

The deployment, which saw the two carriers and their escorts operate 24 hours a day while launching hundreds of aircraft sorties daily, comes as the US itself is struggling with a surge in COVID-19 cases and how to stem infection rates.

More than 1,000 of total COVD-19 cases reported in the US were among the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, which was left tied up in Guam for weeks in the spring.

Smaller outbreaks were reported among crews of both the Reagan and Nimitz, but Kirk said the Navy turned that situation around.

Howeveer, the strike group has remained COVID-free since early April, Kirk said on July 8.

"We've been very effective in applying the mitigation measures that have been put in place to protect the health and readiness of the crew and the strike group," he said.

The United States, China, East Sea, The United States, China, East Sea
Aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan and their escorts conduct operations in the East Sea (South China Sea) on July 7. (Photo: US Navy)

Messages sent out

Wikoff said the purpose of the excercise is to show an unambiguous signal to the US’s partners and allies that the country is committed to regional security and stability.

Analyst Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center, said the dual-carrier exercise in the East Sea was designed to send a message to Beijing that the US Navy is back following the COVID-19-driven reduced activity.

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The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and Ronald Reagan transit the South China Sea. (Photo: CNN)

In recent months, the US Navy has maintained operations in the East Sea despite the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, for the first time since 2017, the US Navy simultaneously operated three carrier strike groups in the Pacific.

Aside from USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz, USS Theodore Roosevelt was also active in the region. In March, USS Theodore Roosevelt was temporarily put out of commission after a major onboard COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in more than 1,100 infections and the death of one sailor according to, The diplomat reported.

China's simultaneous drills in 3 Asia seas and objection to US’s exercise  

China's Global Times reported that the East Sea is entirely within the reach of the Chinese military and that Beijing possesses multiple missiles enabling to destroy aircraft carriers, right after the information of US sending the carrier to the area.

Global Times on July 4 afternoon published an article citing "unknown expert"'s warning: "China has a wide selection of anti-aircraft weapons in the South China Sea (actually Vietnam's East Sea)."

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Chinese military aircraft in the East Sea (South China Sea). (Photo: Xinhua )

The article mentions that the East Sea is completely within the reach of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). Any operation of US aircraft carriers in the region is only at the will of the PLA. The Chinese military has a lot of anti-aircraft carrier weapons to choose from as DF-21D and DF-26 called as 'anti-aircraft killers' - Global Times quoted unknown-name "analysts".

China conducted military exercises in the South and East China Sea, as well as in the Yellow Sea last week, to show off its "muscles" amid growing tensions with the US.

Accordingly, a missile destroyer and two helicopters simulated the scenario of capturing unauthorised ships in the East China Sea. The Chinese military has also conducted live-fire exercises in the Yellow Sea and the East Sea.

Chinese state-run media unruly referred to these three waters conducting a series of drills as "three main battle zones," including illegal exercises in the East Sea that took place in Vietnam's Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago./.

China's military drills on Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago have violated Vietnam's sovereignty over the archipelago and run counter to the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry Le Thi Thu Hang has said while answering reporters’ queries at the ministry’s regular press briefing in Hanoi on July 2.

The drills have complicated the situation, which is unfavourable for the current negotiations between ASEAN and China over a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) and the maintenance of peace, stability and cooperation on the East Sea, the spokesperson said.

She added that Vietnam has handed over a diplomatic note voicing its objection and demanding China not to repeat such violation in the future.

Regarding the information on China’s Haiyang 4 survey ship entering Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, Hang affirmed that survey, exploration and scientific research activities in Vietnamese waters defined under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) must receive Vietnam’s approval in line with the convention.

She underlined that respect for national sovereignty, sovereign rights, jurisdiction, and UNCLOS 1982 provisions holds significant meaning to maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the East Sea, the region and the world.

 

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