NATO Battlegroup Estonia has replaced its rotation units as planned despite the coronavirus regulations. It is safer to transport soldiers from one country to another than traveling through civilian airports, said Col. Matthew Hing, the British Embassy's Defense Attache on Friday.
The units of the British contingent leading the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battle Group changed their headquarters last weekend when approximately 800 British troops arrived at Tapa military barracks from the UK. A Danish unit belonging to the Battle Group changed its rotation in early January.
These units complied with the health regulations established by the Estonian Government and arrived safely in Estonia.
Hing told ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera": "They move as a unit from their barracks in coaches to a Royal Air Force station in the UK where they boarded military aircraft which flew them direct to Estonia. So no stopping, straight into Ämari Air Base and from there coaches moved them to Tapa. A relatively simple process but also a process that you can regulate, to protect, in a way that you can't when you are regularly flying through large civilian airports."
While there will be no additional foreign allied troops taking part in annual military exercise Spring Storm (Kevadtorm) in May, the NATO battle group at Tapa will participate as they are part of 1st Infantry Brigade. The rotation will also stay even if the coronavirus pandemic escalates.
Hing said: "This has to be done. A bit like the NATO mission in Afghanistan where the Estonians are working under the command of British troops. The NATO mission takes priority and it is a good example in these difficult times, where NATO nations, where allies stand together and provide the cohesion that the allies would expect."
The broadcast can be watched here in Estonian and English.
Estonia imposed controls on its borders from March 17 barring entry to non-citizens or residents and imposed a 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering the country.
However, military personnel, including those involved in the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence based at Tapa, are exempt from these requirements, though still have to undergo precautions.
A defense ministry spokesperson told ERR News: "For us, it is critical that both our troops and those of our allies maintain their readiness while taking all the necessary measures to prevent the virus from spreading."
"According to the guidelines issued by the Prime Minister of Estonia, from March 16 foreign citizens involved in international military cooperation can enter Estonia provided they do not exhibit symptoms of coronavirus."
"In addition, prior to boarding a plane, all U.K. and Danish troops stationed in Estonia with the NATO Battle Group, are screened for COVID-19 using a temperature check and must fill out a questionnaire. They are able to carry out routine training in Tapa camp and there their capability remains unaffected."
The eFP is British-led and features Danish personnel as well as those of other NATO states. Personnel are rotated throughout the year; the core of the eFP at present is the Queen's Royal Hussars armored regiment.
Exemptions also apply to the diplomatic corps and their family members, as well as providers of vital services and drivers and others bringing key goods.
Editor: Helen Wright