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Cobra Gold military exercise kicks off amidst coronavirus concerns

Cobra Gold, one of the largest multinational military exercises in Asia-Pacific, kicked off in Thailand on February 25, with this year's event taking place under the heavy cloud of a fast-spreading novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

The exercise, co-hosted by Thailand, the US, Japan, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea (RoK) and Malaysia, will last until March 6, with around 9,600 personnel from 29 countries taking part.

It is aimed at enhancing interoperability, strengthening relationships among participating nations and handling security threats and national disasters.

Speaking at the opening ceremony at Camp Akatotsarot in the northern province of Phitsanulok, Charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Bangkok Michael Heath said only through cooperation and collaboration can countries address the challenges of keeping people safe.

Apart from the tabletop exercises, field training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber warfare training will also be highlighted this year. It will aim to address the ability to handle the ever-increasing threats from the cyber world.

For this year's exercise, the 39th of its kind, the US is sending around 5,500 troops, 64 aircraft and two war ships. The exercise will also see its very first appearance of F-35 fighter jet.

But this year's event takes place with added pressure of keeping participants safe from infection by the new coronavirus.

In response to the deepening health crisis, the RoK has reduced the number of personnel joining the exercise due to an explosion of domestic cases of infection, while the number of observing countries might also slightly decrease.

Strategies have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. All personnel were required to go through medical screening before leaving their respective countries, and they will be checked twice a day for the duration of the exercise.