BANGKOK — More than a hundred American troops are participating in a military exercise in Thailand amid the coronavirus pandemic that infected at least 4.8 million people in the U.S., the government said Monday.
Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman of the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration, said the 110 soldiers will fly into the country from their bases in Guam and Japan for a joint exercise with Thai soldiers, despite the army’s pledge to suspend such operations due to the coronavirus threat.
The spokesman said the troops will be held in Bangkok hotels to observe their condition.
“Although we suggested that joint exercises should be postponed at the moment, some of them were still admitted into the country,” Taweesin said. “The army will give more information to the public. We acknowledged the situation in the U.S., but rest assured that we will take care of them properly.”
The Conrad, Anantara Riverside, and The Idle hotels in Bangkok are chosen as the quarantine facilities, according to Taweesin. The soldiers arrived in Thailand yesterday and today.
The army previously announced that joint exercises involving international travels will be suspended after a group of Thai soldiers returning from Hawaii tested positive for the coronavirus.
Nattapon Srisawat, chief of the army’s COVID-19 response center, said the U.S. soldiers are part of the annual bilateral exercise called Hanuman Guardian, which commenced earlier this year.
“Everyone must take a swab test and pay for everything, including their quarantine accommodations,” Gen. Nattapon said. “There will be no privileges granted to them. If they agree with those conditions, then they are allowed to enter into the country.”
The government came under intense scrutiny last month after a foreign airman was allowed to visit shopping malls in Rayong province during his quarantine. He later tested positive for the virus, resulting in school closures and mass cancellations of local hotel bookings due to public anxiety.
Gen. Nattapon said the exercise is necessary for national security and could not be postponed since it would affect its plan for technical exchange.
The soldiers will stay in the country until the end of August, but he did not specify where the exercise will take place.
“We understand the people’s feelings, but our country is not currently closed,” Nattapon said. “We will strictly follow the guidelines outlined by the government. No one will be allowed to come out. It is necessary for the army to exchange knowledge with the experts.”