Coronavirus exposure stalls deployment of Royal Canadian Navy task group
The Department of National Defence says a close family member of one of the sailors aboard HMCS Regina, pictured here in October 2019, has been exposed to the novel coronavirus. (CTV News)
VICTORIA -- Just hours after three Royal Canadian Navy warships set sail for exercises on the high seas Saturday, the naval task group abruptly ended its deployment and returned to Vancouver Island, where the ships remained Tuesday.
The Department of National Defence says a close family member of one of the sailors aboard HMCS Regina has been exposed to the novel coronavirus, setting back months of official preparations for the estimated 500 service members on the deployment.
While the sailor has tested negative for the virus, the Regina's crew remain aboard the docked frigate at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt "to limit the potential of community exposure," according to National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande.
Another frigate in the task group, HMCS Calgary, and coastal defence vessel HMCS Brandon are in a holding pattern just offshore, where they have remained since the weekend.
All three vessels, along with an accompanying maritime helicopter detachment, were meant to be conducting critical "high-readiness" exercises ahead of HMCS Calgary's pending deployment to the Asia-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, HMCS Regina is one of several Canadian navy vessels, including a submarine, that are scheduled to deploy to Hawaii ahead of the massive multinational Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in June.
No naval deployments have been cancelled at this time, however two Esquimalt-based warships abruptly ended their operations in Central America last week amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Coastal defence vessels HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Whitehorse are expected back at CFB Esquimalt in early April, cutting short their assignment on Operation Caribbe by a month.
"Senior leadership remains committed to balancing the requirement to complete critical tasks and high-readiness training in support of planned operations while coordinating with health care professionals," Lamirande said when asked whether National Defence would delay or cancel the upcoming naval missions.
The Canadian military officially stopped reporting cases of COVID-19 on March 20 with three confirmed coronavirus diagnoses among Canadian Armed Forces members in Canada and abroad.
While the military continues to report cases to Health Canada, the Department of National Defence says it will no longer report cases independently "in order to ensure both operational and personnel security," according to Lamirande.