US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has put off a trip to India scheduled for next week because of the rapid spread of the novel Coronavirus, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. Esper was supposed to visit India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan between March 16 and 20 to hold discussions on bilateral defence relations.
Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said Esper delayed the trip as he decided to remain in the US to help manage the Defence Department's response to the deadly Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, outbreak. The US military has been largely spared so far by the pathogen, with only a dozen or so cases confirmed among its forces deployed around the world. Yet, officials at the Pentagon are trying to keep their headquarter, where nearly 20,000 people work, free from the virus.
“Our national military command center has the capability to go for weeks at a time if they have to be locked down inside the building if we have some type of outbreak,” Mark Esper told reporters during a Pentagon press conference last week. He said the Pentagon is finalizing plans to prevent the spread of the virus across the force and military installations and also mitigate it in the event of an outbreak.
The Coronavirus has reported 985 confirmed cases in the US while it has killed at least 30 people. Most cases have been reported from Washington state. The outbreak has already been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. It has infected over one lakh people and claimed around 4,299 lives worldwide.
Meanwhile in India, 14 more people have tested positive for Coronavirus — eight in Kerala and three each in Karnataka and Maharashtra, state authorities said on Tuesday as the number of such cases went up to 61. Amid the COVID-19 scare, a combination of two anti-HIV drugs was used for the first time in India in the treatment of two patients.
The health ministry said the total number of confirmed cases has risen to 50, adding the rest are being retested for confirmation. If the fresh cases declared by the state governments are taken into account, the figure goes up to 61.
(With inputs from agencies) (Photo: AP)