July 27, 2020 / 12:39 PM / 9 days ago

How a U.S. Navy base in the Gulf tackles coronavirus

MANAMA (Reuters) - At the U.S. Navy’s main base in the Gulf, military staff are strictly abiding by rules to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

A member of the U.S. Navy personnel stands next to a COVID-19 precaution sign during his daily duty hours at the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet base following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manama, Bahrain July 26, 2020. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The Bahrain base houses the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT), operating in the Gulf amid high tensions between Iran and the United States.

“It is necessary for everyone to assume that they are infected at all times,” said base commanding officer Captain Greg Smith, citing learning about asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

“Our job is important and it must continue.”

With people living and working in close proximity on base, mask wearing and social distancing must be adhered to, said Smith, adding he was not allowed to disclose the number of cases recorded there.

Outside Bahrain, outbreaks have been reported on two U.S. warships at sea - aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Asia-Pacific region in March, and the Kidd in the Pacific in April - and on a number of U.S. Navy ships in port.

Posters and hand-washing stations are dotted around the base. Remote working and teleconferences reduce the number of people in rooms, and interaction with the rest of Bahrain has been limited.

“We don’t do unnecessary shopping, we don’t eat in the fine restaurants here in Bahrain,” he said, adding that anyone coming onto the base is kept isolated for 14 days.

The base follows Bahrain government guidelines for contact tracing, testing and isolation.

    “As soon as you find one person positive you identify all the people they may have come into contact with and you isolate them as well so you don’t get that continuous spread after a case,” Smith said.  

“If someone has to go into isolation and hospitalization, the plan is to use Bahraini facilities, which are superb,” he said, adding that treatment was also available on base.

The small island state of Bahrain, with a population of 1.5 million, has recorded almost 39,000 coronavirus cases and 140 deaths.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Gareth Jones

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