March 12 (UPI) -- Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced new restrictions Wednesday prohibiting military service members, civilian employees of the Department of Defense and their families from traveling to, from or through most of Europe.
The travel restrictions take effect Thursday and were announced within hours of President's Donald Trump's announcement that he would suspend travel to the United States from all European countries, aside from Britain, in an effort to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Air Force announced Wednesday that it will begin screening recruits for COVID-19 as they enter Air Force Basic Military Training to prevent spread of the virus, while the Navy on Monday blocked guests from attending recruit, boot camp and officer training graduations.
"The Department of Defense's top priority remains the protection and welfare of our people. While directing this prudent action, I continue to delegate all necessary authority to commanders to make further decisions based on their assessments to protect their people and ensure mission readiness," Esper said in a press release. "While we deal with this fluid and evolving situation, I remain confident in our ability to protect our service members, civilians and families."
The new DoD policy restricts all forms of travel -- including permanent change of station, temporary duty and government-funded leave -- to countries given a Level 3 advisory by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The list of countries with a coronavirus-related Level 3 advisory includes most of Europe, as well as China, Iran and South Korea.
The new policy also restricts travel to Level 2 countries -- which include Hong Kong, Japan and Macau -- for the next 60 days.
The DoD said will also implement "enhanced health care protocols" for military or contracted aircraft for required travel to Level 2 or 3 locations.
The Pentagon will also require screening and 14-day self-monitoring at home upon return for all DoD personnel who have traveled from, to or through Level 2 or 3 countries for at least 60 days.