The joint winter exercise Joint Viking in northern Norway will not be carried out due to the infection situation in the country, Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has announced.
Around 7,000 Norwegian soldiers would have participated in the drill at the end of February, together with some 3,000 foreign soldiers from the US, the UK, and Germany to name a few, and some of them were already in place in northern Norway, national broadcaster NRK reported.
Earlier in January, it became known that the decommissioned naval base Olavsvern outside Tromsø was to be used again by Dutch soldiers. The Dutch, too, were already in place, scheduled to conduct winter training there.
Frank Bakke-Jensen announced that Norway won't receive any new allied forces and those units already present in the country will be sent home.
"It is not critical, but we would have liked to have been able to complete the exercise as planned", Bakke-Jensen said.
Earlier this month, a total of 45 soldiers from the US and the UK tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Norway. Furthermore, at least 65 cases of the mutated British variant were detected in Nordre Follo, spurring strict infection control measures in ten municipalities in the Oslo region. This past weekend, the Armed Forces introduced a batch of new measures to control the spread of the virus, postponing the service of recruits from eastern Norway. Additionally, all leave trips will be stopped.
The government previously came under fire from the opposition for what is seen as inadequate measures against the pandemic.
"The government and the parliamentary majority have been chronically behind in handling the import of infection", Reds party leader Bjørnar Moxnes told the newspaper Verdens Gang.
On 19 January, the parliament voted down a proposal by the Reds to cancel Joint Viking. Now, the government appears to have changed its tune.
"We must be careful to try to avoid the spread of the mutated virus. After a comprehensive assessment of the situation, we have decided to cancel the allied activities in Troms", Frank Bakke-Jensen responded, thanking all the allies for "showing great flexibility and understanding in this demanding situation".
The county administraion in Troms and Finnmark praised the decision to cancel the exercise as a "wise" one.
The main goal of Joint Viking numbering some 10,000 soldiers, including Norway's NATO allies, was to practice the defence of the country. The drill would have taken place in 2021 in Nordland and Troms and Finnmark counties, including the border area.
In total, Norway has seen over 61,000 COVID-19 cases, with some 550 fatalities.