The Australian government has approved the deployment of US Marines to the Northern Territory (NT) despite the coronavirus travel bans currently imposed in the country.
About 2,500 Marines were due to arrive in Darwin last month as part of an annual rotation to the NT, reports Xinhua news agency. But the rotation was postponed indefinitely in late March to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the territory.
Following strict restriction put in place
In a statement on Thursday, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said she has informed Mark Esper, the US secretary of Defense, that the deployment has been approved. "I was pleased to inform Secretary Esper that after careful consideration, the government has decided that a modified 2020 Marine Rotational Force -- Darwin can proceed later this year, adhering to strict measures in place to protect against COVID-19," she said.
"The decision was based on Australia's record to date in managing the impacts from COVID-19, as well as strict adherence by deployed US Marines to the mandatory 14-day quarantine and other requirements."
Size and timing not decided
The NT has had only 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the fewest of any Australian state or territory. Chief Minister Michael Gunner in late April revealed a roadmap for most coronavirus restrictions to be lifted by June 5. The size and timing of the deployment has not been decided, but the Marines usually remain in the NT throughout the dry season, which runs from May to October.
Gunner welcomed the announcement, saying that the arrival of the Marines would provide a "massive boost" for local businesses. "That is exactly what we need right now," he said on Thursday. "We've also secured a number of guarantees to ensure the territory remains the safest place in Australia."