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The Norwegian Armed Forces have cancelled the ongoing winter exercise, Cold Response 2020, in northern Norway amid mounting COVID-19 concerns.

The decision to end the exercise in a controlled manner has been taken in coordination with Norwegian civilian health authorities.

Planned and controlled closure of the exercise is aimed to maintain the army’s combat capability and extend support to civil society while preventing further spread of the virus.

The Norwegian-led Cold Response 2020 exercise includes the participation of around 14,000 soldiers from nine countries. It commenced on 2 March and was initially scheduled to conclude on 18 March.

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Norwegian Joint Headquarters chief lieutenant general Rune Jakobsen said: “By ending the exercise now, we will also avoid any unnecessary burden to the civilian health care system, for example with illness among soldiers, accidents, or corona testing among personnel.”

Jakobsen also noted that the presence of some armed forces’ medical personnel is required to support the medical emergency. The personnel also serve in the country’s civilian health care sector.

Information about the exercise suspension is being communicated to participants and departments.

Meanwhile, all daily operational activities of the Norwegian Armed Forces will not be terminated.

The US European Command (EUCOM) said in a statement: “We are working closely with our Norwegian Allies to manage the safe and orderly transition of our personnel.

“We appreciate the hard work that Norway has put into making this exercise happen and we look forward to continued collaboration and opportunities to engage in the future.”