We are already seeing EMS, Fire Departments, hospitals, and other first responders being hard hit by absenteeism, and the challenge in the weeks to come will be keeping many essential services open and operational in face of this latest wave of illness.
The military - which must maintain readiness 24/7 - is particularly vulnerable to a fast-moving respiratory virus, and over the weekend two large contingents the U.S. military (USFK and USFJ) announced heightened alert levels and safety protocols due to the rise in Omicron in east Asia.
Four days, U.S. Forces Japan Increased to Health Protection Bravo, and today they published this Joint Release from UKFJ and the Government of Japan.
22-002 | Jan. 9, 2022
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan —
The United States and Japan recognize and take seriously the severity of the rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout Japan. U.S. Forces, Japan (USFJ) and the Government of Japan (GOJ) are working closely to ensure the safety of the Japanese public and U.S. military personnel and their families, balancing the high levels of readiness necessary for deterrence and fulfillment of Treaty obligations for the security of Japan and maintenance of international peace and stability in the region.
As Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, Foreign Minister Hayashi, and Defense Minister Kishi discussed at the 7 January 2022 Security Consultative Committee (“2+2”), the United States and Japan are committed to working together to protect the health of the Japanese people and U.S. service members. In this spirit, USFJ and the GOJ are focused on implementing prudent, appropriate, and medically informed measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Noting the extraordinary virulence of the Omicron variant spreading throughout Japan, including in and around SOFA Article II facilities and areas, USFJ will take the following actions to further protect its personnel and local communities:
1. For 14 days, with implementation on 10 January 2022, movement of USFJ personnel outside of SOFA Article II facilities and areas will be restricted to essential activities only.
2. USFJ has also implemented a mandatory masking policy for all personnel, both on and off base, when outside of their residences.3. USFJ will maintain its strict pre-departure and post-arrival testing procedures, and firmly enforce Restriction of Movement (ROM) requirements until the end of the 14-day quarantine period.4. USFJ, in consultation with the GOJ, will continuously monitor the COVID-19 situation and make adjustments to these measures as necessary.
In addition to these actions, under the auspices of the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee, the United States and Japan will cooperate in sharing relevant case information and consulting closely regarding additional measures to manage and minimize the spread of COVID-19 as appropriate.
The GOJ appreciates the strong commitment, extraordinary flexibility, and cooperation of USFJ to transparently and continuously implement stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures, as demonstrated by the rapid vaccinations of U.S. and Japanese personnel associated with SOFA Article II facilities and areas as well as the measures and additional cooperation announced today.
And from USFK, we get this announcement.
NEWS | Jan. 7, 2022
USFK Implements HPCON Bravo Plus
By By USFK Public Affairs
USAG Humphreys, Republic of Korea –
Due to the continued presence of COVID-19 within United States Forces Korea and South Korea, USFK has increased its health protection condition to “Bravo Plus” peninsula-wide effective January 8, 2022 at 12 p.m. until further notice.
Unauthorized off-installation activities include seated dining at restaurants, indoor malls, bars, clubs, gyms, amusement parks, theaters, massage parlors, saunas, spas or festivals.
Authorized activities include emergency services, medical care, pharmacy, schools and daycare, grocery shopping, life, health and safety, shopping, and religious services among other activities.
Due to the associated risk of potential exposure to the virus, travel to Seoul is prohibited except for official duties or for individuals who live or work in Seoul.
The exact boundary for Seoul is viewable on USFK’s interactive COVID-19 map located on the USFK COVID webpage at: https://www.usfk.mil/Coronavirus/
All other travel to Seoul requires an exception to policy letter approved by the first O-5 commander, or O-6 or civilian equivalent within the individual or sponsor’s chain of command.
Individuals who reside within Seoul are authorized to leave that area for authorized activities.
Installation-to-installation travel is authorized - including overnight stays - with the exception of unofficial travel to Yongsan Garrison; all other leisure travel including overnight stays off-installation are prohibited without an exception to policy.
All USFK-affiliated individuals are reminded to adhere to USFK’s core tenets, HPCON B+ measures, and all South Korean rules, directives and laws to protect yourself, your family and our community from COVID-19.
USFK will continue to monitor the current COVID-19 situation within USFK and South Korea, and will make an assessment regarding HPCON in the coming weeks.
USFK remains at a high level of “fight tonight” readiness and continues to maintain a robust combined defense posture to protect the Republic of Korea against any threat or adversary.
HPCON Bravo Plus Infographic (English) [↓]
`Omicron' was just a name on a list of future variants that, with luck, might never emerge.
Our luck didn't hold, and today we find ourselves in a radically different pandemic wave. One where many of the policies used in 2020-2021 are no longer practical or likely to succeed.
There's a popular adage in epidemiology that - "If you've seen one pandemic, you've seen one pandemic". Meaning that no two pandemics are exactly alike.
The various incarnations of COVID, from the `wild-type' that emerged in Wuhan, China 2 years ago - to the first European D614G mutation that swept the globe in 2020 - to Alpha and then Delta which reigned in 2021 - and now the Omicron variant, have all displayed different characteristics.
Some spread faster than others, while others were more pathogenic. But each successive wave has brought its own unique challenges, and what worked against one wave may not work well against another.
The recent emergence of a `milder', but far more transmissible and immune evading Omicron variant, suggest we might want to amend that adage to say:
"If you've seen one pandemic wave, you've seen one pandemic wave."
Which is why we must remain nimble, and be willing to pivot - perhaps repeatedly - for as long as this crisis remains. The virus we face today is vastly different from the coronavirus that emerged in 2019 - and while we may hope that Omicron is COVID's last hurrah - 2022 may yet have more surprises in store.
Stay tuned. And stay vigilant.