HONOLULU — The world’s largest maritime military exercise is scheduled to be held this week in Hawaii, but the event has been scaled back significantly, mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 27th Rim of the Pacific international military exercise will be considerably smaller than usual, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.
The exercise will be limited to sea training activity with minimal personnel on land to prevent potential spread of the coronavirus.
The exercise is held every two years on land, in the air and on the seas around the Hawaiian Islands. The shift is a significant change from past exercises — which included large, land-based training events, shore leave for sailors and numerous social gatherings.
This year’s event will feature 10 participating countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. There were 26 participating nations involved in 2018.
The drills will be held over two weeks, from Aug. 17-31, instead of the usual five weeks of events from late June to early August.
The U.S. Navy declined to provide reasons former partners declined to participate this year, although the pandemic is a likely cause because some some governments have suspend overseas military training.
Thailand announced in July it would indefinitely suspend overseas exercises after a dozen Thai soldiers tested positive for COVID-19 following exercises with the U.S. Army in Hawaii.
The U.S. Navy delayed and reconfigured the exercise following a request by Democratic Hawaii Gov. David Ige, but resisted pressure to cancel it.
Navy Capt. Jay Steingold, exercise director for the event that goes by its acronym RIMPAC, said the U.S. and partners enacted health precautions including placing 14-day movement restrictions on participants, who will be monitored for symptoms.
Kyle Kajihiro of the Cancel RIMPAC Coalition that wants the event halted, said the training was not essential during the pandemic.
“We can’t even know what’s going on, how the military has been controlling the virus,” Kajihiro said. “So the safest measure would have been for them to cancel RIMPAC altogether.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.