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Esper, NATO Defense Ministers to Discuss Global Effort to Defeat COVID-19

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The coronavirus sets its own timetable and does not respect international boundaries,  and it will take an international effort to defeat the pandemic, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

A man stands at lectern and answers questions from a reporter whose face is on television screens to his right and in the foreground.
NATO News Conference
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg answers reporters’ questions during a virtual news conference in Brussels, April 14, 2020. He spoke about an upcoming meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers.
Photo By: NATO
VIRIN: 200414-O-ZZ999-0002A

The NATO leader will host a virtual meeting of the alliance's defense ministers tomorrow. Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper will join the meeting from his Pentagon office.

The only item on the agenda is the alliance's efforts against COVID-19, Stoltenberg said today in a virtual news conference from Brussels.

"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect us all," he said. "Even though we have seen that the rate of increase is slowing down in some countries, the illness continues to take a terrible toll."

Two helicopters prepare to land with large mountains behind them.
Chopper Transport
A group of UH-72 Lakota helicopters prepare to land at Sheridan Barracks in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, April 1, 2020. The choppers are supporting the COVID-19 response task force in the U.S. Army Europe area of operations.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Patrik Orcutt
VIRIN: 200401-Z-JY390-001C

The secretary general expressed his condolences to those who have lost family and friends and praised health workers who are on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic. 

The ministers will review the actions NATO allies are taking to combat the spread of the virus and decide on the next steps. "We will also address how to maintain NATO's deterrence and defense and sustain our missions and operations throughout the pandemic," the secretary general said.

The alliance responded quickly to the pandemic by implementing preventive measures, assuring the continuation of operations and assisting allies in combating the virus, he said.

Service members carry boxes from an aircraft.
International Assistance
Military medics from Croatia, Germany and the Netherlands arrive in Lithuania to assist in NATO's COVID-19 prevention efforts.
Photo By: NATO photo
VIRIN: 200414-O-ZZ999-001

Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, has set up a task force to share resources and speed up military support to allies in response to the pandemic.

"NATO allies are cooperating to airlift critical supplies from across the globe," the secretary general said. "Hundreds of tons of medical equipment have been donated and delivered. Allies are sharing medical expertise and spare hospital capacity."

The support that the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Turkey and the United States have provided to the alliance's newest member: North Macedonia, is evidence that the alliance is more than a singularly focused military entity, Stoltenberg said.

An airman dressed in personal protective equipment writes down medical information.
Drive-Thru Screening
Air Force Staff Sgt. Maxime Copley, 86th Medical Group medical technician, writes down patient information during COVID-19 drive-thru screening at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 31, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater
VIRIN: 200331-F-PJ020-1030A

The NATO disaster response center has facilitated Denmark's delivery of ventilators and a field hospital to Italy and Germany's delivery of ventilators to Spain, he said, adding that Turkey has delivered medical supplies to allies and partners across the Balkans and to hard-hit Italy and Spain.

"Allied armed forces are also providing essential support to civilian responses in our nations, including with logistics and planning, field hospitals and hospital ships, transport for patients, repatriation of citizens abroad, and the disinfection of public areas and at border crossings," Stoltenberg said.

The coronavirus crisis has far-reaching consequences for how the nations of the alliance and NATO as an entity think about security and national resilience, he said.

Two soldiers in white protective outfits work to clean grocery carts in a parking lot.
Cart Cleaning
Army Staff Sgt. Rosannie Murillo, right, and Sgt. William Haynes work to wipe down shopping carts at the Vogelweh Commissary in Kaiserslautern, Germany, March 28, 2020, in an effort to decrease the spread of COVID-19. The soldiers, both reservists, used an Environmental Protection Agency-approved decontamination solution.
Photo By: Army Reserve Capt. Lorenzo Llorente
VIRIN: 200328-A-ZZ999-013Y

The defense leaders also will address countering disinformation about the virus.

"We have seen state and nonstate actors try to take advantage of the pandemic to spread false and harmful narratives and to try to divide us," the secretary general said. "So allies need to work closely together to identify, monitor and expose these efforts. An open and transparent press is the best bulwark against disinformation and propaganda."

All this builds on NATO's core task of preserving security to almost 1 billion citizens in the North Atlantic region, he said. "We must continue to work hard to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis and that we are better prepared when the next crisis comes," he added.

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