US Marines get clearance for NT deployment amid coronavirus travel ban


The Australian Government has approved the deployment of US Marines to the Northern Territory this year after their original rotation was postponed in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 2,500 Marines were expected to arrive in Darwin in early April as part of an annual rotation to the Top End that has taken place since 2012.

But the risk of spreading COVID-19 into the Territory and its vulnerable remote Aboriginal communities was considered too great at the time.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds today informed US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper the military contingent had now been given approval.

“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 in a statement.

The NT Chief Minister said the Marines would provide a “massive boost” to the local economy.(Supplied: Staff Sergeant Jordan Gilbert)

“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.”

The size and date of the deployment have yet to be determined, although the Marines usually stay in the Top End throughout the dry season.

There have been a total of 30 cases of coronavirus detected in the NT since the outbreak started, but only three remain active, including two Australian Defence Force personnel who recently returned from the Middle East.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner welcomed Ms Reynolds’ announcement and said local businesses would get a “massive boost” by having the Marines in the Top End.

“That is exactly what we need right now,” he said in a Facebook post.

He added: “We’ve also secured a number of guarantees to ensure the Territory remains the safest place in Australia.”

His spokesman said these included health screening four days before they travel to Australia.

The US Marines were likely to undergo quarantine at Defence barracks in the Northern Territory, the spokesman said.

The ABC is seeking details about where US Marines would be treated if any were confirmed to have COVID-19.

Ms Reynolds said the annual rotation was important for the region.

“Hosting this key Alliance activity provides interoperability benefits as well as signals our firm joint commitment to regional security,” she said.

The deployment of US Marines to Darwin was first announced in 2011 by the then US president Barack Obama and then Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.

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