US cancels military drills with Philippines over coronavirus

US army Lieutenant Robert Johnston from Alabama (left) looks on while Filipinos fire their rifles during a mock 'assault' scenario in Palayan City, Philippines, on May 10, 2014.
US army Lieutenant Robert Johnston from Alabama (left) looks on while Filipinos fire their rifles during a mock 'assault' scenario in Palayan City, Philippines, on May 10, 2014.PHOTO: ST FILE

MANILA (AFP) - The US military has cancelled large-scale exercises involving thousands of troops in the Philippines in May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Covid-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” US Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral Phil Davidson said.

The war games, set to be held in the Philippines on May 4-15, usually involve several thousand troops from the two longstanding allies and a smaller contingent from Australia.

"We are in an extraordinary time and it’s clear we would have put many people at risk had we pursued Balikatan," said Rear Admiral Adelius Bordado, the Philippines’ exercise director.

The United States now has the largest number of confirmed infections in the world while the Philippines, with limited testing, has reported around 700 cases.

 Among those who tested positive is Philippines military chief General Felimon Santos, the defence secretary said Friday.

The US troops who take part in Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder) usually come from its bases in Japan and South Korea, which have both been hit hard by the virus.