The annual rotation of a couple thousand Marines to Australia is “on hold” as a precaution in the face of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, according to a Marine infantry battalion slated to participate in the six month deployment.
According to a newsletter from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines’ commanding officer Lt. Col. Jason Goodale, an advanced party of Marines currently in Okinawa, Japan, waiting to deploy to Australia will remain there until a “final decision” is reached.
The delay of the deployment to Australia is the latest setback to hit the Corps as COVID-19 continues to impact military readiness and operations around the globe.
According to Australia’s Department of Health, there are 565 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 6:30 am Thursday — that’s an increase of 111 cases over a 24-hour period.
The Corps had been expecting a 14-day quarantine for newly arriving in Marines in Australia to comply with new government restrictions for incoming travelers to self-isolate upon arriving Down Under.
Roughly 2,500 Marines are expecting to participate in this year’s annual six-month rotation to Australia, matching roughly the same size as last year’s deployment. Marines had been scheduled to start arriving in Australia in April, with the others arriving over the summer.
“Both Australia and the United States remain committed to the deployment but a decision of this magnitude will take time,” Goodale said in the newsletter.
Goodale said the battalion would continue to be prepared and work towards the original deployment timeline so the unit can “execute smartly” when a decision is made.
Australia is a key ally for the Corps’ goals to confront a rising China and the Marines’ plans to redistribute forces across the Pacific.
Goodale said because of current restrictions the battalion cannot execute an “effective leave block" but Marines will not be charged leave because they can’t go anywhere.
The unit is instead transitioning to a “relaxed battle rhythm” with only two to three hours of activity a day to give Marines time to relax and refit.
According to the Australian government, as of Friday there are 709 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — an increase of 144 cases over the last 24-hours.