Docked at Kilo Wharf on the U.S. Naval Base, the HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived safely in Guam amid reports of up to 100 cases of Covid-19 onboard the ship and its accompanying strike force that raised concerns for the safety of the island and its residents.
However, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is not like the warships of yesteryear, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said during a press conference on board the ship on Friday.
Giving assurances to those assembled in the small theater-style room where masks, social distancing and hand-sanitizing were required, Moorhouse explained that everyone on board had been “double jabbed” without exception with the Covid vaccine. They were the first among the U.K. and U.S. defense to mandate it.
Launched in 2014, the ship is brand new. “It’s bigger and much more modern than our older style of ship,” he said.
The accommodations are very different from the “old war films you may have watched with 40 or 50 people in it,” Moorhouse said. “The young sailor today lives only in an accommodation of eight.”
More senior members are housed in groups of two to four depending on rank, with the highest ranking members assigned to single accommodations.
When an individual is reported with a Covid-positive test, that person “is taken out, put into a complete isolation facility and then the seven people that they live with are also taken out and put into a separate group.”
That action was taken six to seven weeks ago prior to arrival on Guam.
“You’ve then just got to play the waiting game with Covid…it’s like killing a weed. You’ve just got to let the cases run through.”
At first, the cases went up in number but now “they’ve fallen completely,” he said.
Of those who tested positive, around half had no symptoms while the remaining half had mild, flu-like symptoms, he said. “It’s not at all like a ‘plague ship’.”
It’s taken in three stages. “We live through it, eradicate it and then move to the other side.”
In addition to strict protocols for human isolation, quarantine and contact tracing, the vessel is cleaned and sanitized daily to the required standards regardless of the situation.
In two of the three ships in the group, Covid is gone and there’s been no positive test “in nearly two weeks,” but testing is continuing every day.
On the HMS Queen Elizabeth, “we’re now down to single figures of those that have tested positive and among the 15 or 20 who would be called ‘contacts’ around them,” he said.
They all remain isolated on the ship in their own facility while the remainder “have been through a rigorous testing regime.”
Those people will not be stepping off the ship to have liberty in Guam.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero expressed her thanks for the assurances offered by the commodore and extended her welcome to those who will be able to spend time on the island. She also expressed her support for those who “are working together” in support “of this part of the world.”
"The decision to come to Guam was heavily based on our island's incredible success with Covid-19 vaccinations, which allows for a greater sense of security for both our visitors and our local community," Leon Guerrero said Thursday before the ship's arrival.
HMS Queen Elizabeth's deployment is Britain's first by a carrier strike group in the Indo-Pacific for almost 25 years and marks a historic achievement in the
bilateral partnership between the U.S. and U.K., according to a press release from Joint Region Marianas.
"The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) is deployed with the strike group, as are F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805)," JRM added.
Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, JRM commander, said CSG21 is a prime example of the United States' powerful partnerships not just with its neighbors in this region, but around the world.
"The U.K. is one of our most stalwart and skilled allies, and their participation in our exercises and operations in the Pacific is a demonstration of the deep
relationship we share in terms of defense and deterrence of our
adversaries," Nicholson said.
JRM said Guam's low Covid transmission rates and high vaccination status provides a safe haven port for sailors to enjoy some downtime before going back to sea.
Military officials assured the community that during the group's visit, sailors will adhere to U.S. Naval Base Guam policies and local regulations.
"The deployment of Carrier Strike Group 21 is incredible and historic
milestone for both the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy, highlighting the
interoperability and global reach of our combined forces, as we work
together with our allies and partners towards our shared interest in a free
and open rules-based order," said Capt. Mike Luckett, commander Navy Base
"It marks the culmination of nearly 10 years of carrier cooperation
between the U.S. and U.K. defense establishments and demonstrates the depth of our bilateral defense relationship. U.S. Naval Base Guam is proud to host
our allies for this historic visit, which is a vital reminder of Guam's
strategic importance in the Western Pacific."
"CSG21 highlights the strategic value of the Indo-Pacific on the global stage
and importance of developing and maintaining high levels of cooperation and
interoperability with allied and partner nations," JRM said.