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Army takes covid precautions as 4,000-strong exercises start

The military drills are being organised against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating coronavirus situation in the country.

Varusmiehet kävelevät metsässä
The drills are being organised against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating coronavirus situation in the country. Image: Karjalan prikaati

Finland is hosting large scale military exercises, which will involve a total of about 4,200 people, starting Monday.

The week-long exercise will be held mainly in Kouvola in the Kymenlaakso region, which has entered the “acceleration phase”. Some will also train in the Mäntyharju area in Southern Savonia.

The exercises are hosted by the Karelia Brigade, which is based in the east of the country and specialises in mechanised units. Most of the participants are conscripts from the Kouvola, Hamina and Pori brigades, and Finnish Border Guard personnel.

More than 1,000 reservists from Kymenlaakso, Etelä-Savo, Päijät-Häme and Uusimaa regions will also participate in the refresher exercises.

The drills are being organised against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating coronavirus situation in the country.

"This exercise is absolutely necessary for the defence capabilities of the ground forces. The performance of the Finnish Defense Forces is primarily based on the performance of the reserve," Lieutenant Colonel Juhana Skyttä, Chief of Staff of the Karelia Brigade said.

On Friday, Kymenlaakso’s Social and Health Services authorities urged all residents to avoid travelling to the provinces of Uusimaa and Päijät-Häme, which are in a “community spreading” phase.’

Troops have been asked to assemble at the barracks over the weekend, and the drills begin next Monday and end on Friday.

By law, every Finnish man must attend a call-up the year he turns 18 and must perform either military service or civil service. After completing the service, conscripts enter the reserve and may be ordered to take refresher courses or even defend the country in wartime, up to the age of 50.

Special arrangements made

Defense Forces have said they made special arrangements to make the exercises Covid-safe.

More buses have been booked to transport the reservists than usual, to allow physical distancing on the buses, and extra parking spaces have been allocated for those travelling by their own vehicles.

Conscripts will not train or share living quarters with reservists. Participants will be divided into small groups that will sleep, eat and train separately so that they are not in contact with each other.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Skytä, the group size of the departments varies from a few members to about 10, depending on the task.

"Of course, the line-up could increase in different situations, but during the exercise, we will work with as small groups as possible."

Face masks will be used indoors where it is not possible to maintain sufficient safe distances of 1.5 to 2 meters. Masks will not be used during outdoor exercises.

Situation monitored through a survey

There are currently no coronavirus cases in the garrison, Lieutenant Colonel Skytä said. Earlier, several infections had been reported in the Karelia Brigade.

"Infected and exposed people were asked to isolate immediately, and the cases have not spread to a wider group," Skyttä said.

The military said it aims to keep infections at bay by conducting a survey of all reservists to determine their condition. If the preliminary survey reveals symptoms, health care personnel will examine the participant’s health status.

Skytä said people have been making inquiries about the coronavirus-related arrangements, but added that he is not aware of anyone hesitating to participate.

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